Regular and vigorous exercise reduces the chance of children developing diabetes, study finds

by Sarita Sheth on September 19, 2012

Encourage children to be physically active for 20 to 40 minutes daily, study says

Just 20 minutes of daily, vigorous physical activity over three months can reduce a child’s risk of diabetes according to a new study.

But 40 minutes works even better, say the researchers from the Institute of Public and Preventative Health at Georgia Health Sciences University in the United States.

The study looked at 222 overweight, previously inactive seven to 11 year olds in the Augusta, area and found more is indeed better.

‘If exercise is good for you, then more exercise ought to be better for you and that is what we found for most of our outcomes,’ said Dr. Catherine Davis, clinical health psychologist at the institute.

‘Obesity is a growing public health crisis that is affecting youth throughout the United States, and we know that obesity can contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes,’ said Dr. Michael Lauer, director of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute Division of Cardiovascular Sciences of the National Institute of Health.

‘This research adds to the body of evidence that physical activity improves children’s health, that longer periods of exercise provide a greater benefit and that increased physical activity among overweight and obese children could stave off the onset of type 2 diabetes,’ he added.

A third of those taking part kept up their typically sedentary lifestyle, a third began a 20 minute heart rate raising exercise routine after school for three months and a third exercised for 40 minutes after school.

While their primary focus was insulin resistance, a risk factor for diabetes, the researchers also measured total body fat, visceral fat and aerobic fitness over the study’s course.

Children who exercised for 40 minutes had a 22% reduction in insulin resistance versus the controls, while the 20 minute group experienced an 18% reduction, said Davis, the study’s lead author.

The extra 20 minutes also helped the children lose more total body fat and visceral fat while fitness, which appeared driven by intensity rather than duration, gained a similar boost from both time periods. Benefits were gained without restrictive diets and worked equally well in black and white boys and girls.

Davis’ research team kept both groups moving with running and tag games and modified sports.

‘Regulation sports tend to have kids standing around a lot waiting for the ball. We had enough balls so everyone was moving all the time. It had to be fun or they would not keep coming,’ said Davis.

She explained that it was important to have quantified the amount of exercise needed to result in a real change.

‘If you are able to get kids active for 20 minutes every day in school, whether through physical education or taking a running break during lunch, that can make a real difference,’ she said.

Davis explained that one of the first indications of trouble is increased insulin resistance, how much insulin the pancreas must produce to enable glucose circulating in the blood to become energy for the cells.

In this study, researchers showed a benefit of 40 minutes of daily exercise on the disposition index, the ratio of insulin resistance to the body’s ability to secrete insulin, a proven predictor of diabetes development in adults.

‘When your body is no longer able to secrete enough insulin to overcome your body’s resistance to it, that’s when it becomes diabetes,’ Davis said, adding that in insulin resistance, pancreases must work overtime producing extra insulin to convert excess blood glucose to usable energy. Without sufficient insulin, a vicious cycle results as energy starved cells increase the appetite and people eat more creating even more glucose to convert.

‘Exercise basically gives the pancreas a break and could prevent or delay type 2 diabetes as long as people remain active,’ Davis said. Longer term and follow up studies are needed to find out what happens with these children over time and how to help them sustain a healthy lifestyle.


The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the DiabetesForum.com Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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