Women at Higher Risk for Diabetes Less Likely to Be Physically Active

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Women at Higher Risk for Diabetes Less Likely to Be Physically Active

Younger women at high risk for type 2 diabetes are less likely than those with a lower diabetes risk to meet physical activity recommendations, according to a new study published in the journal Diabetic Medicine.

The benefits of regular physical activity are abundantly clear when it comes to preventing type 2 diabetes, as well as improving health outcomes in people with diabetes. Greater physical activity is linked to fewer blood glucose spikes in people with diabetes, and it’s linked to better cardiovascular health. Physical activity is linked to a lower risk for dementia in people with newly diagnosed type 2, and it may reduce the risk of death in people with kidney failure who are on dialysis. Greater physical activity throughout adulthood is also linked to health care cost savings, while inactivity is linked to a higher overall burden of chronic disease and death.

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For the latest study, researchers were interested in the link between physical activity and diabetes risk in women of reproductive age, ages 18 to 44, who didn’t have diabetes at the beginning of the study. The looked at data from the U.S. Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey, which included a total of 211,114 female participants within the target age group from the years 2011, 2013, 2015, and 2017. Based on whether they had prediabetes or a history of gestational diabetes, participants were categorized as low risk for diabetes (202,766 participants) or at risk for diabetes (8,348 participants). As part of the survey, participants indicated how much of different kinds of physical activity they got regularly.

At-risk women less likely to meet physical activity recommendations

The researchers found that compared with participants with a low diabetes risk, those in the at-risk group were less likely to meet physical activity recommendations in different areas — they were 5% less likely to get enough aerobic activity, 17% less likely to get enough muscle-strengthening activity, and 13% less likely to get enough of both types of activity.

When the researchers broke these results down further based on participants’ body-mass index (BMI, a measure of body weight that takes height into account), they found some clear patterns. Among participants who had a healthy body weight, those considered at risk for diabetes were 31% less likely to get enough muscle-strengthening activity. Among participants who were overweight (but not obese), those at risk for diabetes were 22% less likely to get enough muscle-strengthening activity. There was no significant difference between participants in different body weight categories when it came to getting enough aerobic activity — but among participants with a healthy body weight, those at risk for diabetes were 24% less likely to meet recommendations for both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activity. Among participants with obesity, there were no significant differences in meeting physical activity recommendations between those who were considered at low risk, or at increased risk, for developing diabetes.

The researchers concluded that among women of reproductive age, those with a history of prediabetes or gestational diabetes potentially stand to benefit the most from getting enough physical activity — especially when it comes to muscle-strengthening activity. But further studies would be needed to show that any exercise-based intervention actually helps prevent diabetes, or has any other health benefits, in younger women considered to be at risk for diabetes.

Want to learn more about exercising with diabetes? Read “Add Movement to Your Life,” “Picking the Right Activity to Meet Your Fitness Goals,” “Resistance Training for Diabetes,” and “Seven Ways to Have Fun Exercising.”

Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips on social media

A freelance health writer and editor based in Wisconsin, Phillips has a degree from Harvard University. He is a former Editorial Assistant for Diabetes Self-Management and has years of experience covering diabetes and related health conditions. Phillips writes on a variety of topics, but is especially interested in the intersection of health and public policy.

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