A Longer and a Better Life with Diabetes
How physical activity can help you live long and well.
There is absolutely no doubt about it now: People who exercise regularly really do live longer. A recent study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine on November 14, 2005 looked at the consequences of different levels of physical activity (such as low, moderate, or high) on the total life expectancy of more than 5,200 middle-aged and elderly people, most already older than 50 years. The study concluded that if you get in a good workout almost daily (e.g., running 30 minutes five days a week), you can add nearly four years to your life. If you only engage in moderate exercise – the equivalent of walking instead of running for those 30 minutes – then you're likely to live 1.3 to 1.5 years longer for males and females, respectively. The longer lifespan found among study subjects was largely attributable to a delayed development of heart disease, our nation's leading killer. In this regard, men and women benefited about equally.
I have to admit that when I first read about this study, I thought to myself, "Doing moderate exercise five days a week will gain me only a year and a half extra?" To gain this extra time, I would have to walk moderately for 2.5 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, for most of my adult life (let's say 55 years for the sake of argument), which means that I would have spent over 7,000 hours exercising, or about 300 24-hour days, in exchange for only 550 extra days. So, basically, I would have spent over half of my extended time exercising the equivalent of 24 hours a day. I guess if you enjoy exercising, that's not a bad thing, but if you're like the majority of people, you're probably thinking that it is just not worth the extra effort.
Before you stay on that couch and vegetate some more, though, let me try to talk you off of it. This study showed that physical activity affects not only how long you live, but also how long you live a healthy life. Being more physically active can give you more time in a healthy state, free from a host of chronic illnesses that can make it hard for you to really enjoy your "golden years." This study primarily assessed the impact of heart disease, and it showed that being active during your adult life prevents you from developing heart disease longer regardless of any other risk factors you have.
Remember, too, that if you have diabetes, you already have the equivalent risk of dying from a heart attack compared to someone without diabetes who has already had at least one heart attack or who has diagnosed heart disease. If exercising moderately can reduce your risk of dying even earlier from a heart attack caused by diabetes, then you may have far more to gain from exercising than your non-diabetic friends and relatives. Diabetes has the potential to rob you, on average, of more than twelve years of your life, not to mention that it can also dramatically reduce your quality of life for more than 20 of those years. A lesser quality of life can result from many physical ailments, but in people with diabetes, it often results from a compromised physical capacity, partial limb amputations, loss of mobility, chronic pain, blindness, and chronic dialysis, in addition to heart disease. For women, the reality may actually be even worse: For each of the 38.5 percent of average females born in the year 2000 or later predicted to develop diabetes; diabetes will cut her life short by an estimated 14.3 years if she is diagnosed by the age of 40 and reduce her quality of life for 22 of the years she does live.
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Years before I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, The Other Half came out of a doctor's appointment with a diagnosis of "borderline diabetes" and an ADA exchange diet sheet. His health insurance agency followed up on the diagnosis with a glucometer and test strips. After a year or so of trying to follow the diet plan and test his glucose levels, things appeared to be back in "normal" range, and stood there until a couple of years after my own diagnosis. Shortly...