One of life’s certainties is that we’re all aging. It’s also certain, however, that not everyone ages at the same rate. According to recent research, people with type 2 diabetes show signs of aging in their cardiovascular system significantly earlier than those without the disease. Fortunately, exercise can help slow this premature aging, bringing people with type 2 diabetes more in line with others who are not diabetic, says researcher Amy Huebschmann of the University of Colorado School of Medicine.
An abstract of the study “Exercise Attenuates the Premature Cardiovascular Aging Effects of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus” was discussed at The Integrative Biology of Exercise VI meeting, held October 10–13 in Westminster, Colorado. (This meeting is a collaborative effort between the American Physiological Society, the America College of Sports Medicine and the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology.)
Huebschmann and her colleagues’ review of current research suggests that a gradual decline in fitness with age is inevitable: A healthy adult loses about 10% of his or her fitness with each decade of life after age 40 or 50. In people with type 2 diabetes, however, fitness levels are about 20% worse than they are in nondiabetic adults. In other words, diabetes appears to place a 20% tax on a person’s fitness level at each stage of life.
Not only exercise but also activities of daily living, such as a simple stroll to the corner store, are more difficult for people with type 2 diabetes, say the researchers. This loss of fitness increases both mortality and risk of early disability, Huebschmann says. “It means you might move into an institutionalized setting, such as an assisted living facility, much earlier,” she explains.
The hopeful news is that exercise training can decrease these premature aging effects, a result seen in various studies. Findings suggest that after 12–20 weeks of regular exercise, fitness in type 2 diabetic people can improve by as much as 40%, although fitness levels did not fully normalize to levels of nondiabetic people in studies.
“In other words, these defects are not necessarily permanent,” Huebschmann says. “They can be improved, which is great news.”
However positive this research is, people with type 2 diabetes actually have to exercise to get results! That's why it's key that you, as a fitness pro, continue to develop fun, effective one-on-one and group programs for this population.