For diabetics, physical activity improves longevity

People walking with a dog.

If you’re diabetic, getting off the couch may be as crucial as glycemic control, according to a new study by York University researchers.

People walking with a dog.The study, published Feb. 15 in the journal Diabetologia, reports that moderate physical activity improves longevity for patients coping with diabetes, even if they do not improve their blood sugar.

For diabetics, being physically active is as important as controlling their blood sugar for long-term health

“Our results indicate that a physically active lifestyle may be just as important as glycemic control in terms of decreasing mortality risk. In other words, just managing your blood sugar isn’t the only factor if you want to live a longer and healthier life,” says Jacinta Reddigan, who authored the study while a graduate student in York’s School of Kinesiology & Health Science, Faculty of Health.

Researchers analyzed data from more than 10,000 adults who participated in the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES-III) Public Access Mortality Linkage. Their levels of physical activity were assessed by questionnaire and compared with mortality rates that detail the risk of premature death from both generalized causes and cardiovascular disease.

York kinesiology Professor Jennifer Kuk notes that the level of physical activity required for protective benefits is very modest. 

“In this study, ‘physically active’ was defined as doing any moderate or vigorous intensity physical activity even once per week,” says Kuk, a co-author on the study. “This could include walking, jogging, biking and dancing, for example.”

Reddigan says many health professionals tend to focus solely on glycemic control. “It’s crucial that health professionals highlight the importance of physical activity to their patients – especially to those with poor levels of glycemic control,” she says.

The study, “The joint association of physical activity and glycaemic control in predicting cardiovascular death and all-cause mortality in the US population”, was co-authored by Kuk and Michael Riddell, a professor in the School of Kinesiology & Health Science. The research was supported by funding from the Heart and Stroke Foundation.