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Free Treatment For Diabetics In Texas: Exercise

Oct 12, 2007
Well, well, well. I do believe we finally have a winner: free therapy for the growing number of those with diabetes. It turns out there are few excuses for diabetics -- or any of us, for that matter -- not to exercise. According to recent reports, nearly any form of exercise benefits the long-term control of blood sugar levels, be it aerobic, weight/resistance training, or both. Both forms in conjunction worked better than either one alone. This is great news for Texas, with more than 1.8 million estimated diagnosed and undiagnosed diabetics.

There were doubts about the safety and efficacy of weight training for those with diabetes until Dr. Ronald Sigal of the University of Calgary and his colleagues from the University of Ottawa decided to question that assumption. Together, they studied 251 individuals with type-2 diabetes ages thirty-nine to seventy, none of whom exercised regularly. Subjects were broken down into four groups: the first group participated in aerobic training three times a week; the second group did resistance training three times a week; the third upped their heart rates by doing both aerobic and resistance training, for a total of one and a half hours, three times a week; and the fourth group participated in no extra exercise whatsoever.

Participants used treadmills, stationary bikes, and/or weight machines at health clubs, exercised consistently, and were given a diet designed to prevent undo weight loss. Their blood sugar and cholesterol levels were monitored, as were other vital statistics. By the study's end, which was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, participants' blood sugar levels had dropped, and -- more importantly -- so had their A1c levels, hemoglobin that indicates average blood sugar over the past six months.

For those who participated in one form of exercise, their A1c dropped by half a point on average. For those who did both aerobic and resistance training, the average A1c drop was a full point.

A diabetic's A1c level is of vital importance because it helps measure his or her long-term control of blood sugar. A normal A1c level is between four and six; patients in Sigal's study began at a concerning 6.6 to 9.9. A one-point drop in this hemoglobin is associated with a fifteen to twenty percent decrease in major cardiovascular events, like heart attacks and strokes, and a thirty-seven percent decrease in complications like kidney, eye, and limb damage.

According to Sigal, there were some who brought their A1c into the normal range -- a feat for nearly anyone with this condition. Some participants were even able to reduce their medications, and many lost weight and body fat.

Such studies are pertinent to Texas, which has a diabetic population higher than the national average, and one-quarter of its population going without health insurance. According to 2006 statistics from the Texas Diabetes Council, 1.3 million men and women eighteen and older in the state have the disease, as compared with 15.3 million in the entire country. Another estimated 400,000 in Texas are left undiagnosed.

More Texan men than women have it, and, while non-Hispanic blacks and Hispanics are only a little more likely to be afflicted with the condition than whites, their death rates due to the disease are more than double than that of their white counterparts. In fact, diabetes is the sixth leading cause of death in Texas, and it's believed the condition is actually underreported on death certificates as both a cause and a condition.

What is, perhaps, even more concerning is that recent studies in Dallas, Houston, and Austin reveal that certain risk factors for the disease, such as obesity, are increasing among children. One in every 400 to 600 children in Texas have type-1 diabetes, a much more serious, autoimmune disorder than its more prevalent counterpart, type-2.

Type-1 diabetes is a condition in which the body essentially attacks its own immune system, destroying insulin-producing cells and requiring patients to administer multiple insulin shots a day, or a pump.

Type-2, on the other hand, is often caused by a combination of poor diet, lack of exercise, and genetic characteristics. Data needed to monitor diabetes trends by type in youth is not yet available, but if incidences of those with risk factors, like obesity, keep increasing, cases of type-2 (if not also type-1) are also expected to rise.

Many in Texas also lack health insurance, a factor recent reports by the Commonwealth Fund reveal to contribute to less access to quality care. Twenty-five percent of the Texas population is currently without health coverage -- the worst rate in the nation -- and, unless something is done, that number is not expected to improve. High premium costs of most health insurance companies and the debate over the State Children's Health Insurance Program in Congress add to the strain. Without proper diagnosis and care, diabetes can easily lead to other, sometimes fatal conditions. Any activity a diabetic can do on one's own that decreases the chances of complications is worth it.

"Imagine an inexpensive pill that could decrease the hemoglobin A1c value by one percentage point, reduce cardio death by twenty-five percent, and substantially improve the functional capacity [strength, endurance and bone density]" wrote Dr. William Kraus of Duke Medical School and Dr. Benjamin Levine of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. They continued by saying all able-bodied diabetics should be prescribed exercise regimens.

Imagine that: something we can all actually do for ourselves -- no doctor's visits, no prescriptions, no therapy appointments, time out of the work day, or exorbitant amounts of cash out of our pockets. Just a matter of getting up off of our couches. Well, well, well.
About the Author
Pat Carpenter writes for Precedent Insurance Company. Precedent puts a new spin on health insurance. Learn more at Precedent.com
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