The Physical Benefits of Exercise in Protecting You from Diabetes and Obesity

Over eighteen million Americans have diabetes. They shouldn't. Although heredity plays a role in the disease, most patients with the general form of diabetes have themselves to blame, not their parents. Guilt is not the issue, but health is. Diabetes can lead to heart attacks, strokes, blindness, kidney failure, amputations, and early death. Various studies show that regular exercise cuts the risk of diabetes by 16 to 50 percent. Moderate exercise, such as walking, will give you lots of protection, but this is one area in which more exercise is even better. In the University of Pennsylvania College Alumni Study, for example, the risk of diabetes was reduced by 6 percent with every five hundred calories burned up in exercise per week.

You can find out if you have diabetes by taking a simple blood test, the fasting blood sugar. Values of 100 mg/dL or lower are normal, levels above 126 mg/dL indicate diabetes, and scores between 100 and 126 reflect increased risk. But even if your fasting blood sugar is normal, you should take steps to keep it that way—and exercise plays a crucial role. It promotes weight loss, but it can even help folks who remain overweight. But the most important physiologic benefit of exercise is to increase tissue sensitivity to insulin so more sugar enters cells even though the pancreas puts out less insulin. And this important metabolic asset persists for up to twenty-four hours after a single exercise session.

Obesity is a terrible health hazard, actually weight-loss therapy may be a more effective solution in the control of diabetes than the routine lifestyle change. As our waistlines expand, our wallets empty to purchase a bewildering variety of diet books, special foods, and unregulated diet pills and potions. Everyone who shells out for a quick fix is headed for disappointment. Don't fall for the weight-loss shell game. There is no quick fix. Instead, weight loss requires a long-term commitment to diet and exercise.

To lose weight, you need to burn up more calories than you take in. The math is unforgiving, the progress slow, and the lifestyle changes substantial. But it works. The National Weight Control Registry maintains a roster of people who have succeeded where so many fail. About four thousand Americans are on the list. On average, they have lost sixty-seven pounds each and have kept it off for more than five years. How did they win at the losing game? Their methods vary, but a few themes are common: adhering to low-fat, calorie-restricted menus; eating breakfast; weighing themselves regularly; and getting lots of exercise, typically by walking for an hour a day.

If you are one of the 30 percent of Americans who are overweight, one of the 30 percent who are obese, one of the 5 percent who are very obese, you'll consider three facts about exercise and body fat:

1.  Even without dieting, exercises can help. A 2000 Canadian study, for example, found that volunteers who participated in an exercise program without changing their diets lost an average of sixteen pounds in twelve weeks. That took about an hour of daily exercise. But you can do as well or better with half as much exercise if you also cut your calories.

2. Exercise is most effective at reducing abdominal fat. And when you reduce abdominal obesity with exercise (and diet), you'll earn the metabolic benefits that reduce your risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and other illnesses.

3. When it comes to exercise for weight loss, more is better. It's just a case of the math: burn more calories, lose more weight. keep in mind though, that you will undo your gains if you eat more. Fortunately, exercise itself won't make that happen; if anything, physical activity is more likely to reduce your appetite than to stimulate it. Remember, people who perform steady, moderate exercise are more likely to lose weight than people who burn the same number of calories with briefer, more intense bursts of action.
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