Research published online in The Journals of Gerontology turned up some unexpected findings about type 2 diabetes. Fitness professionals may want to share this study’s conclusions with clients.
Just 2 weeks without much activity can have a dramatic impact on health, according to researchers who studied overweight older adults at risk of developing type 2 diabetes. And unfortunately, it may be difficult to recover from this negative effect.
Not only did an abrupt, brief period of inactivity hasten the onset of the disease and elevate blood sugar levels among prediabetic patients, but some study participants did not fully recover when they returned to normal activity for 2 weeks.
“We expected to find that the study participants would become diabetic, but we were surprised to see that they didn’t revert back to their healthier state when they returned to normal activity,” says Chris McGlory, a Diabetes Canada Research Fellow in the Department of Kinesiology at McMaster University and lead author of the study.
Participants were asked to reduce their daily steps to no more than 1,000 steps per day, the equivalent of being housebound (owing to illness, for example). Their steps and activity were measured using pedometers and specialized activity monitors; researchers also tested subjects' blood sugar levels and took blood samples during the 2-week period.
The results implied that seniors who experience periods of physical inactivity—from illness, hospitalization and bed rest, for example—are more likely to suffer harmful consequences to their overall health.
“Treatment of type 2 diabetes is expensive and often complicated,” explains Stuart Phillips, PhD, the McMaster professor who oversaw the research.
“If people are going to be off their feet for an extended period, they need to work actively to recover their ability to handle blood sugar,” he says.
According to the most recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 30 million Americans have diabetes and more than 84 million are prediabetic.
In Canada, type 2 diabetes is one of the fastest-growing diseases, with nearly 60,000 new cases reported each year, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada. It is the sixth leading cause of death and the leading cause of adult blindness and adult amputation.
“In order for pre-diabetic older adults to recover metabolic health and prevent further declines from periods of inactivity, strategies such as active rehabilitation, dietary changes and perhaps medication might be useful,” says McGlory.
Research has shown that within days of the start of inactivity, there are notable reductions in skeletal muscle mass and strength, along with rapid onset of insulin resistance, a common feature of type 2 diabetes.