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Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources

Physical activity important for older adults with diabetes

STILLWATER, Okla. – Anyone living with diabetes or at risk for it knows watching the waistline and staying active play a big role in proactively dealing with the disease. But, finding just the right balance between weight loss and exercise is especially crucial to the rising number of older adults managing the condition.

When it comes to older adults with diabetes, weight loss and weight control is a factor, but they also must focus on getting plenty of physical activity, said Janice Hermann, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension nutrition specialist.

“The link between obesity and diabetes is solid. But, it’s a fine line for older adults with the disease. Losing too much weight could lead to a loss of muscle, which could affect their ability to complete even daily activities,” she said.

Adults age 60 and older should concentrate on losing just 5 percent to 7 percent of body fat – or roughly the equivalent of 10 pounds to 14 pounds for a 200-pound person – and clocking 30 minutes of physical activity five days a week.

Following those two key recommendations is enough to cut the risk of developing diabetes by as much as 58 percent, according to findings from National Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) and the Diabetes Prevention Program Outcomes Study (DPPOS).

A healthy diet combined with physical activity is the foundation of long-term weight-loss success, Hermann said, and is more likely to result in loss of body fat, while maintaining muscle.

“Generally, watching portion sizes and cutting back on foods high in solid fats and added sugars helps encourage weight loss. Also, try adding more fruits, vegetables and whole grains to your diet,” she said. “Physical activity plays an important role in both weight loss and protecting and building that all-important lean muscle.”

Part of the increase in older adults with the diabetes can be credited to people living longer. Simply, the longer we live, the greater our chances of developing diabetes, Hermann said.

Some of the more commonly known complications of diabetes are heart disease, stroke, hypertension, blindness and amputations. However, according to the 2011 National Diabetes Fact Sheet, people with diabetes age 60 and older are up to three times more likely to report being unable to walk one quarter mile, climb stairs or do housework compared to people the same age without the disease.

The fact sheet also indicated that of the 25.8 million people with diabetes in the United States, 10.9 million, or 26.9 percent, are 65 or older.

In Oklahoma, about one in five older adults age 65 and over has been diagnosed with diabetes, according to a 2010 Oklahoma State Department of Health diabetes fact sheet.


Oklahoma State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, State and Local Governments Cooperating: The Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to all eligible persons regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, gender, age, disability, or status as a veteran, and is an equal opportunity employer.

Leilana McKindra
Communications Specialist
Agricultural Communications Services
140 Agriculture North
Oklahoma State University
Stillwater, OK 74078
Phone: 405-744-6792
Fax: 405-744-5739

Oklahoma State University - Stillwater, OK 74078