Regular physical exercise can serve as a safe, preventive strategy against developing type 2 diabetes, especially for people living in highly polluted environments, a study claims.
It also notes that pollution can create serious health issues by causing system-wide inflammation, including in the lungs, blood vessels and central nervous system.
The research, which is the first to investigate the combined effects of physical activity and pollution exposure on type 2 diabetes risk, was published in Diabetologia, a peer-reviewed, monthly journal of the European Association for the study of diabetes.
It was carried out by researchers at the Faculty of Medicine, Chinese University of Hong Kong, China and Institute for Risk Assessment Sciences, Utrecht University, Netherlands.
Diabetes is a chronic medical condition in which sugar [glucose] levels build up in the bloodstream.
It explained that the insulin hormone helps to move the glucose from the blood into the cells, where it is used for energy.
For type 2 diabetes, the medical portal notes that the body’s cells are unable to respond to insulin as well as they should, and that in later stages of the disease, the body may also not produce enough insulin.
Speaking against this background, a Public Health Practitioner, Dr. Dolapo Fasawe, warned that long-term exposure to polluted air can have permanent effects on health.
Fasawe, who is the General Manager, Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency, said even very healthy people can experience adverse health impacts from polluted air including respiratory irritation, lung inflammation or breathing difficulties during exercise or outdoor activities
According to authors of the study, the finding is important as over 90 per cent of the world’s population live in an environment where air quality doesn’t meet the World Health Organisation guidelines.
The WHO estimates that around 91 per cent of the world’s population lives in places where air quality levels exceed WHO limits.
“While ambient air pollution affects developed and developing countries alike, low- and middle-income countries experience the highest-burden, with the greatest toll in the WHO Western Pacific and South-East Asia regions.
“Sources of air pollution are multiple and context-specific. The major outdoor pollution sources include residential energy for cooking and heating, vehicles, power generation, agriculture/waste incineration, and industry,” it stated.
Based on the research, physical activity increases the inhalation of air pollutants, which may exacerbate its adverse effect on health.
Authors of the research, Dr. Cui Guo, Prof. Lao Xiang Qian and Dr. Hsiao Ting Yang, said they investigated the combined associations of regular physical activity and chronic exposure to ambient particulate matter [PM ]in 156,314 adults.
“Information on physical activity and a wide range of other variables was collected using a standard self-administered questionnaire.
“Compared with high physical activity, moderate and inactive/low physical activity were associated with a higher risk of diabetes.
“Participants with moderate and high PM2.5 had a higher risk of type 2 diabetes than the participants exposed to low PM2.5.
“The participants with high physical activity and low PM2.5 had a 64 percent lower risk of type 2 diabetes than those with inactive/low physical activity and high PM2.5,” they explained.
Continuing, the authors said, “We found that high levels of habitual physical activity combined with low levels of chronic PM2.5 exposure were associated with a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, whereas low levels of habitual physical activity combined with high levels of chronic PM2.5 exposure were associated with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.”
They further noted that the benefits of habitual physical activity on type 2 diabetes remained stable in participants with different levels of PM2.5 exposure.”
The researchers said additional analysis showed that the effect on diabetes risk seemed to be more pronounced for higher levels of pollution, than it was for lower levels of physical activity.
Regarding potential mechanisms, the authors said the metabolic improvements caused by physical activity, and which prevents the development of diabetes, have been extensively discussed.
“Our findings suggest that habitual physical activity is a safe strategy for diabetes prevention for people who reside in relatively polluted areas and should be promoted. Our study reinforces the importance of air pollution mitigation for diabetes prevention,” they added.
The researchers called for urgent provision of guidelines, especially in regions with significant air pollution, to inform people whether or not they can benefit from regular physical activity.”
In a similar study titled, ‘Effect of environmental air pollution on type 2 diabetes mellitus’, published in the National Library of Science, air pollution was also identified as a novel risk factor for insulin resistance and occurrence of type 2 diabetes.
“The association between air pollution and diabetes is stronger for traffic associated pollutants, gaseous, nitrogen dioxide, tobacco smoke and particulate matter.
“Environmental protection officials must take high priority steps to minimize the air pollution, hence to decrease the incidence of type 2 diabetes mellitus,” it recommended.
On how not to allow air pollution impact negatively on health, the LASEPA GM, advised people to avoid exercising outdoors when pollution levels are high, and to avoid exercising near high-traffic prone areas.
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