MONDAY, July 26, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- A diabetic who does just a bit of exercise during the workday can reduce the risk of dying from a heart attack or other cardiovascular condition, a Finnish study finds.
Tracking more than 3,300 people with type 2, or adult-onset, diabetes for 18 years, researchers at the National Public Health Institute in Helsinki found those whose jobs had them on their feet and lifting light objects were 9 percent less likely to die of cardiovascular disease than their compatriots who spent the working day behind a desk. This was the case after the researchers took into account other risk factors such as smoking, blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
More strenuous work, such as heavy lifting and manual labor, was associated with a 40 percent reduction in such deaths, said a report in the July 27 online issue of Circulation by a group led by Dr. Jaakko Tuomilehto, a professor at the institute's Diabetes and Genetic Epidemiology Unit.
This is the first large-scale study to compare the effects of on-the-job, leisure and commuting activity in diabetes, the researchers said.
"People with diabetes need to look for ways to build activity into their work, their commuting and their leisure time," Tuomilehto said.
As many other studies have found, the Finnish trial showed leisure-time physical activity by diabetics brought even greater cardiovascular benefits. Those who engaged in moderate leisure activity, defined as more than four hours a week of walking, cycling or gardening, reduced their risk of cardiovascular death by 17 percent compared to people whose idea of exercise was pushing buttons on the TV remote.
The risk reduction was even greater, 33 percent, for people who led an active leisure-time life, defined as more than three hours a week of such things as swimming, running or jogging.
But the benefits of working-time activity can't be ignored, Tuomilehto said.
"Too often people only think of leisure-time physical activity or other aerobic activities," he said.
However, one of Tuomilehto's suggestions, that "physical activity during commuting is one of the easiest, least time-consuming ways to promote health," would be difficult to implement in the United States.
More than 40 percent of the Finns in the study get to work on foot or by bicycle, the researchers said -- a lot less than in China, where an estimated 90 percent of people hoof it or cycle to the workplace, but unquestionably more than in America.
According to 1990 U.S. Census statistics, 73 percent of people in the nation's 50 largest metropolitan areas traveled to work alone in a car. Another 6.5 percent took public transportation, which would presumably mean a walk to a bus stop or train station, and 7.6 percent took "other means," including bicycling and walking.
The study results are no great surprise, said Dr. JoAnn E. Manson, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and a spokeswoman for the American Heart Association. "There is compelling evidence that exercise lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease in the general population, and people with diabetes are at high risk and have the most to gain from preventive strategies."
But this study is different in a couple of ways, Manson added. First, "there have been surprisingly few studies of physical activity in populations with type 2 diabetes," she noted, and "most previous studies have addressed recreational activity. It is important to note that occupational activities have a similarly beneficial role."
The benefits of exercise for diabetics and ways to go about getting them can be found at the Joslin Diabetes Center.