When we have a lot of belly fat, we are at greater risk of heart disease because of the inflammatory molecules that this fat produces. But a new study by scientists at the University of Illinois suggests that even moderate amounts of exercise can reduce the inflammation.
Since people with diabetes are at an especially high risk of heart disease, this is an encouraging finding for us.
The study examined the effects of diet and exercise on the inflammation of visceral fat tissue -- belly fat -- in mice. Maybe people will react differently, but only the sedentary mice got the inflammation that usually results from having big bellies.
"The surprise was that the combination of diet and exercise didn't yield dramatically different and better results than diet or exercise alone," says Victoria Vieira, a University of Illinois Ph.D. candidate and the study's lead author.
The research "tells me that exercise could decrease or prevent these life-threatening diseases by reducing inflammation even when obesity is still present," says Jeffrey Woods, a professor of kinesiology and community health at the University of Illinois. "Scientists now know that obesity is associated with a low-grade systemic inflammation. Obese people have higher levels of circulating inflammatory markers, such as C-reactive protein, which are produced and secreted by fat tissue. This inflammation then triggers the systemic diseases linked with metabolic syndrome, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease."
The good news is that this was a modest exercise program. The mice ran on a treadmill only about one-fourth of a mile five days a week. For humans, that would probably translate into walking 30 to 45 minutes a day five days a week, Dr. Woods says.
The study in the American Journal of Physiology - Endocrinology and Metabolism is free online.
A companion study of sedentary older adults in a recent issue of Brain, Behavior and Immunity reinforced the mice study. This was a 10-month study where one group of sedentary older adults took part in three 45 to 60 minute cardiovascular exercise sessions each week. Another group exercised to improve non-cardiovascular flexibility and balance for 75 minutes twice a week.
"At the end of the study, the 'cardio' group had lower levels of C-reactive protein, less belly fat, and improved general fitness than the 'flex' group," Vieira says.
Flexibility and balance are something that most of us tend to need more as we grow older. I know that I particularly need more. But reducing inflammation and strengthening our hearts has to come first for all of us who have diabetes.