The medical community has long touted the benefits of a good workout. Even a minimum level of physical fitness can provide a buffer against a wide range of conditions, including heart disease, diabetes and obesity. Now, another medical issue has been added to that growing list. A recent study has shown that working out can reduce the chance developing of metabolic syndrome, even for those who are considered to be at risk.
Metabolic syndrome is the cluster of metabolic risk factors that significantly contribute to the chance of developing coronary heart disease or diabetes. Central obesity (fat around the abdominal area) is one of the defining characteristics of the syndrome. Others include high blood pressure, high blood sugar, low HDL (or 'good') cholesterol levels and high tryglicerides. The underlying issue with the syndrome is that the body can't process, or metabolize, insulin effectively. This is termed insulin resistance, and it can lead to a number of health conditions besides heart disease.
The bad news is that the incidence rates of metabolic syndrome are growing, and close to four million Canadians may be at risk. The good news comes from a new study performed at the Coopers Institute in Dallas, Texas. Researchers have found a link between cardio-respiratory fitness and metabolic syndrome, especially in women. Their report concludes that physical fitness can greatly reduce the chance of developing metabolic syndrome, even if there is more than one contributing factor present.
The five-year study involved 9,007 men and 1,491 women, all at risk of developing metabolic syndrome but none diagnosed with the condition. The follow-up revealed that 1,346 men and 54 women acquired the syndrome by the time the study concluded. But after factoring in differences in the subjects' ages, income levels and other risk factors, the study showed that higher fitness levels made the chance of metabolic syndrome far less likely.
Men who were physically fit were at 54 per cent reduced risk of acquiring the syndrome, while those with moderate fitness levels were 26 per cent less likely to develop risk factors. Numbers for the female subjects were even more startling. Those in the highly fit category were 63 per cent less likely to develop the syndrome, as compared to 20 per cent for those in the moderately fit category. The study was notable for its concentration on female subjects -- up until this point there was almost no research on women's physical fitness levels and metabolic syndrome.
Although there are some who are genetically disposed to acquiring metabolic syndrome, for many, lifestyle is the main contributing factor. Working out needs to be a regular part of our daily routine. The Coopers Institute study recommends that we engage in 60 minutes of physical activity a day, but Health Canada suggests that as little as 25 minutes can help bolster our fitness level. Combined with a healthy diet, an active lifestyle can keep us free from a host of health conditions. So dig up the gym card, dust off the bicycle and make your running shoes your best friend!