What Type 2 Diabetes Studies Have Taught Us About Successful Weight Loss Strategies

This article is from the Spring/Summer 2010 issue of The Wellness Advisor® magazine.
Subscribe to get the print edition here.

Multiple studies correlate physical activity with achieving weight loss goals

If you have been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes or have been told that you are at risk for developing it, you probably know that weight loss is key to managing the condition. The exciting news is that several Type 2 diabetes-related studies suggest a strong link between physical activity and successful weight loss. Even better: you don’t have to be a young triathlete to get this benefit. These studies appear to dispel the myth that it’s more difficult to lose weight as you get older.

Here’s a look at what researchers have discovered.

13-year Look Ahead Trial

Baylor College of Medicine’s Behavioral Medicine Research Center is taking part in this study, which is one of the longest government-funded weight loss trials. We are monitoring the health of 5,145 people who have been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, and using weight loss as a means to reduce their risk for heart disease, stroke and death. Half of the participants were randomly assigned to receive intensive lifestyle intervention; the other half are following their doctor’s recommendations and receiving a minimum amount of additional help from the researchers on improving their diet and lifestyle.

We are now into year eight of the study. We recently looked into the attributes of the people within the intensive lifestyle group who have succeeded both in their weight loss and physical activity goals at 12 months.

  • The average number of physical activity minutes achieved per week was 137, and the average weight loss for the Lifestyle participants was 8.6%. Participants who spent more time being physically active achieved the greatest weight loss (287 minutes per week 11.9% weight loss).
  • The older participants were the most successful in losing weight and maintaining their physical activity. In fact, those ages 65 to 74 achieved greater weight loss (9.4%) than any other age group.

Diabetes Prevention Program

This trial also examined the effectiveness of intensive lifestyle intervention with participants at risk for developing Type 2 diabetes. This trial was ended early because researchers determined that the participants in the intensive lifestyle intervention arm of the study had reduced their risk by 58%!

After following those participants for 10 years, the researchers determined that they still benefitted from a 35% risk reduction.

  • Examining the data, it’s clear that those people who maintained their goals for physical activity were also the ones who were successful at losing weight and keeping it off. This correlation surfaces time after time.

Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey

Investigators in this government survey looked at the healthy behaviors of people with and without a Type 2 diabetes diagnosis. Healthy behaviors included physical activity, not smoking, scores on a healthy eating index, moderate alcohol intake, and either maintaining their weight or losing weight in the preceding 12 months.

Not surprisingly, the people with the greatest number of healthy behaviors had a 15% reduced risk of dying from any diabetes-related cause.

  • Of all the healthy behaviors, physical activity (measured as regular, moderate or vigorous) was the most protective for adults with or without diabetes.

Lessons learned

1.  There is a strong association between physical activity, weight loss and health.

While no cause and effect has been proven, it’s clear that people who are physically active on a regular basis seem to lead healthier lives. Set a goal to get at least 30 minutes of physical activity for five days each week and you should start seeing improvements in your weight and your health.

2.  Give yourself time to make physical activity a habit.

Until it becomes woven into their lifestyle, most people need some kind of constant encouragement. Start with an activity that is easy to incorporate such as walking. If you don’t have a sidewalk, go to a park. If the weather is too hot or cold, go to a mall. Buy a pedometer because it is a great motivational tool! Challenge yourself to walk 10,000 steps a day. Remember you don’t need to carve out a large chunk of time to exercise. It’s okay to break it up throughout the day.

3.  Meal replacements are good weight loss tools.

Participants in the Look Ahead trial successfully used liquid meal replacements for two meals a day during the first three months of their intensive lifestyle intervention. These simplified food choices (bars, liquids, frozen entrees, etc.) remove the choice and guesswork of what to eat. They are convenient, and they help you get accustomed to eating a lighter meal. So if you have trouble finding the time to eat a nutritious breakfast or lunch, keep a meal replacement handy. (Just don’t overindulge at the end of the day.)

4. The buddy system works.

Those Look Ahead trial participants who attended the most meetings had greater success reaching their goals than those who attended less often. During the meetings, they compared notes with others about how they added physical activity to their lives. Find someone to hold you accountable for reaching your goals either by exercising with a motivated friend, participating in a formal weight loss program, or taking advantage of any number of online weight loss programs now available.

5.  Self-monitoring will get you to the finish line.

Researchers for both the Look Ahead Trial and the Diabetes Prevention Program discovered that the participants who recorded their physical and dietary activities in a journal every day were more successful at reaching their goals. Self-monitoring is a wonderful tool because it keeps you focused and lets you see how far you’ve come.

The message is clear. If you have Type 2 Diabetes, or are at risk for developing it, you need to get moving – literally. Physical activity can provide a strong and effective foundation for achieving your weight loss and health goals.

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Post Author

This post was written by Dr. Rebecca Reeves who has written 10 posts on The Wellness Advisor.

Dr. Rebecca S. Reeves is past president of the American Dietetic Association. For the past 30 years, Dr. Reeves has conducted clinical trials in nutrition and behavioral medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. In 2001 the American Dietetic Association awarded Dr. Reeves with the Medallion Award, one of the highest awards bestowed on a member.

Dr. Rebecca S. Reeves is a paid contributor to The Wellness Advisor.

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