Avoiding 'Step Reduction' and Diabetes Risks

Health Writer

There have been countless studies on the negative health impact of a sedentary lifestyle. We know that sitting around a lot or not moving for most of the day has a number of health impacts including:

  • Weight gain

  • Loss of muscle mass or even muscle atrophy

  • Loss of bone density or strenght, putting you at risk of fractures

Studies suggest that sedentary lifestyles cause poor circulation, general body inflammation, poor immune system responses, and even hormonal imbalances.

There are also diseases associated with being inactive including:

Most ominous is the fact that when you are not active on a regular basis, and sit a lot, you raise your risk of premature death. The risk of all the health issues listed escalates in direct correlation to “the more you sit.” So just based on this information alone, you should already be motivated to get up and move more.

But just how fast can “not moving” instigate health issues? According to a July 2018 study published in The Journals of Gerontology not moving for just two weeks can have a significant impact on health and that impact may not be easily reversible.

Two weeks of limited activity

The 22 participants were asked to track their daily steps to 1,000 steps per day and then to limit movement. The adults who were seniors and predominantly overweight were essentially mimicking the amount of activity that someone who was housebound due to illness or a sudden injury might engage with – pretty limited activity. Researchers charted the daily steps and also monitored blood sugar levels during a two-week period. The researchers were not surprised to see that glycemic levels were elevated in many of the subjects during the two week period.

What surprised the researchers was that after these subjects began to move daily, the glycemic impact did not seem to improve as quickly as would have been expected. The conclusion was that sudden inactivity, even for a relatively short period of time, can have a prolonged detrimental impact on a person’s health, instigating blood sugar changes that do not easily reverse even after physical activity levels improve.

The researchers in the study termed the inactivity “step reduction” or SR. What’s compelling is that walking is a basic daily function and modern technology has made it easy to sit around even without an acute injury or illness. Remote controls and smart devices mean you don’t have to get up to change channels or move in order to stay entertained. Drive throughs that cover the gamut of food and drink mean you can stay in your car to get fed. You really don’t have to move a whole lot these days if you don’t want to.

Our current home and work environment encourage step reduction

When someone has surgery, the goal is to get the person to get up and move as soon as possible to prevent a dangerous condition called deep vein thrombosis (DVT), which can ultimately cause a life-threatening pulmonary embolism. This study suggests an equally important reason for getting up to move shortly after surgery – you will reduce the risk of blood sugar elevations that could persist even after you resume normal activity, especially if you are older or overweight.

It can seem really difficult to start any kind of physical activity if you are overweight or just very sedentary. For some people, just starting a simple walking program is the easiest way to get movement into your daily life. You can do a walk in the morning and late afternoon, or after dinner, or you can do small ten-minute walks several times a day. You can try interval walking which has been shown to nudge weight loss and optimize blood sugar levels. One of the easiest ways to start walking is to park your car at the farthest end of a parking lot where you plan to shop. The walk to and from the car will add up if you do this regularly.

The bottom line

If you feel you are ready to get moving, enlist your doctor’s help. Consider hiring a personal trainer to help you to devise a several-month “step up” exercise plan, where you add a few new moves, possibly including resistance training, every few weeks. It can help to set a goal – maybe a 5K walk for a six month or year end goal. The big take away message is that most of us don’t realize just how many hours a day we spend sitting and not moving. It’s a health risk that we can manage and it’s worth serious attention – so get up and move!

See more helpful articles:

Choosing the Best Doctor for Your Diabetes Management

How Much Do You Know About Prediabetes?

Exercise for Diabetes: Resistance Training