Low Aerobic Fitness Levels, Obesity, Strongly Linked to Diabetes

Low aerobic fitness levels in young adults make them more than twice as likely to develop diabetes later in life, concludes a recent study. Young women and young African American men demonstrated the lowest fitness levels, portending serious problems in the future for these groups.

Aerobic (meaning “with oxygen”) exercises are typically of moderate intensity and extended time periods. Jogging and swimming are examples of aerobic exercises, and among the many benefits to health, aerobic exercises help improve oxygen processing within the body, as well as blood circulation and muscle toning. This is opposed to anaerobic exercises, such as weight lifting and sprinting, which are performed in short, intense intervals. There are a wide range of reports claiming one form of exercise is more beneficial than the other, but the likelihood is that each has their own unique and necessary benefits.

In the current study, young adults between 18-30 years of age performed “standard treadmill tests,” and were measured for body mass index (BMI). Questionnaires concerning their lifestyles were also filled out. The fitness tests were performed in 1984, and fasting glucose levels were monitored over a follow-up 20 year period to determine diabetes incidence.

There’s strong connections between high BMI, or obesity, and diabetes, and not surprisingly, people carrying extra weight are less capable of performing extended aerobic exercise. Nonetheless, their is great value in a long-term study that shows incapable exercisers, if they don’t improve their health (and often weight levels), put themselves at great risk for future diabetes incidence. Explains lead author Dr. Mercedes Carnethon, “Improving your fitness through physical activity is one way you can modify your body fat. Research shows that combining regular physical activity with a carefully balanced diet can help most people maintain a healthy body weight and lower the likelihood of developing diabetes.”

As for the specific observations of this two-decade long study, those with the lowest aerobic fitness levels, meaning the people capable of running on a treadmill for the least amount of time, were between two and three times as likely to develop diabetes over the next twenty years. Not surprisingly, “If two people have a similar level of fitness, the person with the higher BMI is more likely to develop diabetes,” says Dr. Carnethon, confirming the obesity-diabetes link. It was further observed that young white males were the most aerobically fit of all sub-groups, with young women and young African American men being the least aerobically fit, with these groups being most at risk for diabetes development.

This above study puts numbers and conclusiveness to a vicious and logical cycle. Obesity increases diabetes risk, as do poor fitness and nutrition levels. Obesity makes exercising more difficult, leaving groups of obese individuals with poor fitness levels, and at very high risk for future diabetes development.

Source: Defeat Diabetes Foundation: Carnethon, Mercedes. Paul, Marla. Northwestern University news release. June 2009.