Sedentary Behavior Linked to Diabetic Retinopathy

Sedentary behavior is associated with diabetic retinopathy, according to new research from the University of Mississippi. After living with diabetes for 20 years, nearly everyone with Type 1 diabetes and more than 60% of people with Type 2 diabetes develop the condition.

Diabetic retinopathy occurs when tiny blood vessels in the light-sensitive membrane at the back of the eye, known as the retina, become damaged and leak blood and other fluids. In the early stages, diabetic retinopathy may not cause symptoms. In later stages, symptoms can include blurry vision, floaters (dark spots in vision), and vision loss. It is the leading cause of new blindness in people ages 20–74 in the United States.


To determine the association between sedentary behavior and nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy (the early stage of the condition), the study author looked at data from the 2005–2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) covering 282 people with diabetes with an average age of 62. Sedentary behavior was measured using devices known as accelerometers during waking hours.

The subjects averaged 500 minutes (over 8 hours) per day of sedentary behavior, and 29% had mild or worse retinopathy. The data showed that for a 60-minute increase per day in sedentary behavior, participants had a 16% increased risk of having mild or worse diabetic retinopathy.

“The plausibility of this positive association between sedentary behavior and diabetic retinopathy may be in part a result of increased cardiovascular risks associated with sedentary behavior, which may in turn increase the risk of diabetic retinopaty,” according to study author Paul D. Loprinzi, PhD. “Engaging in daily structured exercise (e.g. brisk walking for 30 minutes at a time) as well as lifestyle-based activity (e.g. minimizing prolonged sedentary behavior by standing up and walking for a few minutes every hour) may have important implications for health,” he adds.

The study does not prove that sedentary behavior causes diabetic retinopathy, Loprinzi notes. A trial randomly assigning people with diabetic retinopathy to increase their amount of physical activity to see whether this decreased the risk of the condition worsening would be needed to establish cause-and-effect, he states.

For more information, see the article “Sedentary Behavior Associated With Diabetic Retinopathy” or the study’s abstract in the journal JAMA Ophthalmology. And to learn about foods that can keep your eyes in good shape, read “Eating for Better Vision and Healthy Eyes,” by registered dietitian Linnea Hagberg.

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