No Better Medicine for Diabetics Than Exercise

Diabetics should exercise 150 minutes a week

NORFOLK — People with Type 2 diabetes should get 150 minutes of aerobic exercise a week, according to a new recommendation written in part by an Old Dominion University professor.

"There is probably not a better medicine out there for people with diabetes than exercise," said Sheri Colberg-Ochs, an ODU exercise science professor.

Colberg-Ochs chaired a committee that wrote the position paper for the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Diabetes Association. It was published in the December issues of the journals Diabetes Care and Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

Federal guidelines recommend that adults get 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise a week. Using recent research into diabetes and exercise, the team came up with a similar recommendation for those with diabetes, calling for 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise a week. They also recommended that diabetics not let more than two days pass between exercise because frequent activity is key to keeping blood glucose levels from rising, Colberg-Ochs said.

Studies also showed that combining physical activity and modest weight loss can lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by up to 58 percent in high-risk populations. This guidance will be helpful to doctors, who don't feel comfortable telling patients with diabetes how much exercise they should be getting.

The first line of treatment of diabetes should be lifestyle changes, such as improving diet and exercise habits, Colberg-Ochs said. "The medications are supplemental to that. You should not take the medications until you make the lifestyle changes," she said.

Many people can come off medications, especially if they start making the changes early in their diagnosis, she said. Even a little bit of activity counts. The 150 minutes of recommended exercise could come in 10-minute bursts throughout the week, according to the paper.

"Weeding, washing your dishes counts, and is very important in people with diabetes," she said. "People think of it as they join the gym or they don't do anything. There are a lot of things in between."

For someone who has been sedentary for years, she recommends starting slow, by spending more time standing and walking than sitting, for example. Then they can add longer walks and other types of more strenuous activity like resistance training, she said. Those activities help maintain muscle, which absorbs carbohydrates. If you're not exercising, carbohydrates convert to fat.

Colberg-Ochs is getting requests for reprints around the world, including from the World Health Organization, India and the University College of London, she said. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicts that as many as one in three American adults may have diabetes by 2050 as the number of diabetes patients doubles or triples over the next 40 years.

But that doesn't have to be the case. People can make changes to make sure it doesn't happen to them, she said. "This wave of diabetes that's predicted is not inevitable," she said.

By Veronica Chufo
December 2, 2010
LA Times