Moderate exercise can improve insulin sensitivity and reduce diabetes risk in women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). PCOS affects between six percent and 10 percent of U.S. women of childbearing age. It’s caused by a hormonal imbalance that results in excessive circulating levels of the male hormone androgen. Symptoms include irregular menstrual cycles, acne and excess facial and body hair. Women with PCOS often have chronic weight problems and carry their excess weight in their abdomen.
The syndrome can also increase a woman’s risk of type 2 diabetes, which occurs when body cells begin to lose sensitivity to insulin.
Women with PCOS can lower their risk of developing diabetes and heart disease by exercising and eating a healthy diet. However, some women with PCOS have trouble shedding their extra pounds.
"Weight is a huge problem for many of these women," study lead author Dr. Ann J. Brown, assistant professor of endocrinology at Duke University, said in a prepared statement. However, "we found that women can improve their insulin resistance just with moderate activity. Even if you exercise and don’t lose weight, you are still reaping very important health benefits."
The study included 19 sedentary women with PCOS between the ages of 22 and 41, all of whom were insulin-resistant. The women were divided into two groups: One group did moderate exercise (the equivalent of walking briskly for one hour, four days a week), while the other group continued their sedentary lifestyle. Body weight remained stable for women in both of the groups, and neither group made changes to their diet during the course of the study.
Nevertheless, insulin resistance declined by up to 25 percent in the exercise group, the Duke team reported.
That’s great news, Brown pointed out, since "anything that improves insulin sensitivity and decreases insulin resistance is going to help prevent diabetes in the long run."
The study was to be presented Friday at the annual meeting of the Androgen Excess Society in San Diego.
Learn about the Steps To Health, a program to increase physical activity that has gone through 8 years of clinical studies to show its effectiveness.
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