The diabetes risk women need to know about

Fiona O' Callaghan
Friday, May 25, 2012
Image: Thinkstock

Diabetes is Australia's fastest growing chronic disease, with an estimated 275 Australians developing the condition every day.

New research has found that women who spend four to seven hours a day sitting may be more likely to develop type-2 diabetes, and that regular exercise and a healthy diet could prevent 60 per cent of cases. We spoke to Joel Tuccia, Australian Diabetes Council's accredited exercise physiologist, about why sitting all day may contribute to the development of type-2 diabetes, and how to reduce the risks.

Sitting still
For most people, the reality is that we work nine-to-five jobs and are sedentary most of the day. "Sitting at work all day causes the biggest problems in the fight against diabetes," says Tuccia. "Physical inactivity is a major cause of insulin resistance which is at the core of type-2 diabetes," he says.

In people with diabetes, insulin is not produced in sufficient amounts by the body. So when they eat glucose it can't be converted into energy and stays in the blood.

"The leg's muscles are the largest muscles in the body and burn the most energy," explains Tuccia, "so by sitting at our desks all day we are switching off these large muscles and reducing their metabolic capacity, thereby reducing their ability to help draw sugar out of the blood."

Why women?
Researchers at the University of Leicester in the UK recently found that although women who sit for prolonged periods during the day are at a higher risk of developing type-2 diabetes, no such link was evident in men.

According to Tuccia, the reason for this is that men by nature tend to fidget and move about more during the day. "Men are always bending, moving or twisting and these everyday movements help to keep the muscles awake and active," he explains. "Also men tend to have more muscle bulk above the waist than women so by moving their arms to bend, twist and lift, men are burning energy even when sitting."

Get moving
"As humans we are designed to move, and by moving we burn more energy, which reduces our insulin resistance," explains Tuccia. "This in turn helps us to draw glucose out of the blood thereby reducing the risk of type-2 diabetes."

Tuccia recommends going for walks throughout the day to break up bouts of sitting. "Prolonged periods of inactivity are particularly harmful," he says. "Try to get up every two hours and spend at least five to ten minutes moving."

For office workers, Tuccia suggests standing while talking on the phone and reading reports. If possible, he recommends walking over to talk to colleagues rather than emailing or picking up the phone, and taking the stairs instead of the lift.

Realise the risks
Other risk factors include obesity, age and a family history of diabetes. If you're at risk of developing diabetes, work with a dietician and trainer to develop an eating and exercise plan tailored to your lifestyle.

Taking steps to prevent diabetes can lower the risk of other possible complications such as heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease, which is good news for your family and friends.

For more information visit the Australian Diabetes Council website

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