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Move to Your Ethnicity: South Asians Need More Exercise to Reduce Diabetes Risk

Update Date: Jun 28, 2013 01:05 PM EDT

South Asians may have to exercise more to increase their fitness level and reduce their diabetes risk, according to a new study.

New research conducted at the University of Glasgow suggests that people from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh may need to be more active than white Europeans to achieve the same levels of fitness and reduce their risk of diabetes.

The study, published in the journal Diabetologia, revealed that lower fitness levels in middle-aged men of South Asian origin are contributing to higher blood sugar levels and increased diabetes risk compared with white men.

Researchers said the latest findings suggest that physical activity guidelines may need to be changed to take ethnicity into account. Researchers said South Asian people living in the UK are three to five times more likely to develop diabetes.  Researchers said they are also more likely to develop the disease around a decade earlier and at a lower body mass index compared with white Europeans.

Even non-diabetic South Asians have higher blood sugar levels than Europeans, and while researchers do not fully understand, they suggest that an increased resistance of body cells to the effects of insulin is strongly implicated.

Having too much fat, a low level of fitness and low physical activity levels are key factors influencing insulin resistance, blood sugar levels and diabetes risk.

The latest study included 100 South Asian and 100 European men between the ages of 40 and 70 year living in Scotland without diagnosed diabetes and measured their blood sugar levels, insulin resistance and other risk factors.  The participants also took a treadmill exercise test to determine how much oxygen their bodies were able to use during intense exercise, wore accelerometers for a week to assess their physical activity levels and had a detailed assessment of their body size and composition.

Researchers then used statistical models to determine the extent to which body size and composition, fitness and physical activity variables explained differences in insulin resistance and blood sugar between South Asians and Europeans.

The findings suggest that lower fitness, together with greater body fat in South Asians, explained over 80 percent of their increased insulin resistance compared to white men.

"Low fitness is the single most important factor associated with the increased insulin resistance and blood sugar levels in middle-aged South Asian compared with European men living in the UK," lead researcher Dr. Nazim Ghouri, of the Institute of Cardiovascular and Medical Sciences, said in a news release.

The findings also revealed that while fitness improves with increasing physical activity, South Asians' lower fitness values could not be explained simply by their lower activity levels.  Researchers explained that South Asians had lower fitness levels than Europeans at all levels of physical activity, suggesting inherent differences in body make-up.

"The fact that South Asians' increased insulin resistance and blood sugar levels are strongly associated with their lower fitness levels, and that increasing physical activity is the only way to increase fitness, suggests that South Asians may need to engage in greater levels of physical activity than Europeans to achieve the same levels of fitness and minimize their diabetes risk," co-author Dr Jason Gill said in a statement.

Researchers said that physical activity guidelines should take ethnicity into account.

"A number of leading doctors and scientists have already recommended that the BMI threshold for obesity in South Asian populations should be lowered from 30 kg/m2 to 25 kg/m2, in recognition of the fact that substantially lower BMIs are needed in South Asians to confer equivalent diabetes risk to those observed in populations of white European origin," researcher Professor Naveed Sattar said in a news release. "The present data suggest that differential physical activity guidance for South Asians may also be needed."

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