Is your diabetes related to air pollution?

We’ve all heard that air pollution is bad for our health. But most people, myself included, assume that we are talking about respiratory health i.e. asthma or emphysema. The truth is, air pollution can be detrimental to cardiovascular and metabolic health too. In fact, a growing amount of research is finding that there may be an association between air pollution and type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is on the rise in western countries and is slowly becoming one of the greatest health concerns worldwide. It is primarily a result of poor lifestyle and is considered a preventable disease. However, there are some risk factors (such as genetics and age) that are not in our control. A recent study published in Diabetes Care (Andersen et al. 2012) and conducted by a group of scientists in Denmark found that air pollution may be another one of those factors. The authors used data from the Danish Diet, Cancer and Health database and from national health registries to determine whether traffic-related air pollution levels and the risk for diabetes in the elderly are related. They found a weak and positive association between diabetes and air pollution. This means that higher levels of air pollution were associated with a higher risk of diabetes, particularly among those who were non-smokers or who were physically active. While the association in this study was weak, there is other evidence to suggest that this association indeed exists. For example, a recent study found that traffic-related air pollution is associated with death from diabetes (Raaschou-Nielsen O et al. Diabetologia 2012), while others have found that those with diabetes have worse outcomes when exposed to higher levels of air pollution (O’Neill et al. Circulation 2005).

It seems then that air pollution may be another risk factor for type 2 diabetes. The question is, is it a risk factor we can control or a risk factor that is out of our control?  Well, I would like to think it is one we can control, not just at the individual level, but one that our governments can do a great deal about as well. If air pollution is leading to an increase in the prevalence of chronic conditions, then it is a public health issue. The government should opt for clean and green energy solutions and make green choices more affordable for the general population. This could lead to significant savings in health care expenditure as well as a significant improvement in our quality of life.

TAKE HOME MESSAGE: Type 2 diabetes is preventable and in some cases, reversible; particularly if you have a HALF. However, there are some factors that may be out of our our control and require action from our government. If you live in an area with high levels of air pollution, write to your local officials and let them know that your health is on the line! While we can all do our part at being green, we need significant changes in air pollution levels to ensure we can all maintain our HALF!


Can Pilates help with your Lower Back Pain?

It is thought that 80% of the population will experience low back pain at some point in their lifetime. Whether this is chronic (lasts for a long period of time, 3 months or more) or whether acute (short period of time) will depend on the cause of the back pain. One of the most common reasons for low back pain is weak abdominal muscles and tight low back muscles. This is often a result of having a large waist. Thus, any physical activity will help with back pain of this nature because it will help with weight loss and will also help strengthen and stretch the appropriate muscles. Of course, there are many other causes of low back pain, such as an injury sustained at work or in a car accident. In these cases, more specific exercises targeting the cause of injury may be required. These are generally prescribed by a health care professional such as a physiotherapist. Nevertheless, even for such injury related low back pain, general physically active has been found to be beneficial.

Supervised exercise sessions for chronic low back pain can be expensive and may not be enough to counter the pain. In recent years, exercises such as yoga and Pilates have been investigated as exercise options for those with low back pain. In a recent study published in the peer-reviewed journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise Wajswelner and colleagues investigated the benefits of Pilates compared to a general exercise program for those with low back pain. Participants were adults who reported symptoms of pain or stiffness in the lower back with or without lower limb symptoms (no leg pain or numbness) on most days of the week for 3 months or more. They also had to report significant pain to participate in the study. For 6 weeks, twice per week (60 minutes each), participants attended group sessions of either Pilates or general exercise with a physiotherapist. At the end of the 6 weeks all participants showed significant improvements in pain and disability scores; the improvement was the same between groups. In other words, Pilates led to similar improvements in low back pain symptoms as did general exercise.

This is great news for those with low back pain. It seems that you can safely and effectively use Pilates to improve pain in your lower back. If you don’t have access to a health care professional, then an instructor led Pilates class might be a good alternative. If you do have access, then you could add Pilates to your program for some variety!

TAKE HOME MESSAGE: If you have low back pain, adding physical activity to your daily schedule is essential! There is no doubt in the scientific community that physical activity is good for your back health, but be cautious in choosing the type of activity you do. It would be ideal to consult with a health care practitioner prior to beginning an exercise program, but if you can’t, choose a safe and effective physical activity like walking or Pilates. Don’t let low back pain control your life.

Remember, you have control of your HALF!!!