In a new study, researchers from McMaster University found that just two weeks’ inactivity can have a dramatic impact on health from which it is difficult to recover.
The inactivity can trigger type 2 diabetic symptoms in overweight older adults.
This is because the brief period of inactivity hastens the onset of the disease and elevates blood sugar levels among pre-diabetic people.
Moreover, some participants did not fully recover when they returned to normal activity for two weeks.
According to the most recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 30 million Americans have diabetes and more than 84 million are prediabetic.
In Canada, Type 2 diabetes is one of the fastest growing diseases, with nearly 60,000 new cases reported each year, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.
It is the sixth leading cause of death and the leading cause of adult blindness and adult amputation.
Previous research has shown that within days of the onset of inactivity, there are notable reductions in skeletal muscle mass, strength and a rapid onset of insulin resistance, a common feature of type 2 diabetes.
In the study, participants were asked to reduce their daily steps to no more than 1000 steps per day, the equivalent of being housebound due to, for example, illness.
Their steps and activity were measured using pedometers and specialized activity monitors, while researchers tested their blood sugar levels and took blood samples during the two-week period.
The researchers expected to find that the study participants would become diabetic, but they were surprised to see that the participants didn’t revert back to their healthier state when they returned to normal activity.
The results imply that seniors who experience periods of physical inactivity from illness, hospitalization and bed rest, for example, are more likely to suffer harmful consequences to their overall health.
The researchers suggest that if people are going to be off their feet for an extended period they need to work actively to recover their ability to handle blood sugar.
In order for pre-diabetic older adults to recover metabolic health and prevent further declines from periods of inactivity, strategies such as active rehabilitation, dietary changes and perhaps medication might be useful.
Chris McGlory, a Diabetes Canada Research Fellow in the Department of Kinesiology at McMaster University, is the lead author of the study.
Stuart Phillips, the professor in the Department of Kinesiology at McMaster, oversaw the research.
The findings are published online in The Journals of Gerontology.
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