People with diabetes who remain inactive may have higher odds for a vision-robbing eye condition, new research suggests.
Changes to retinal blood vessels
While the study couldn't prove a cause-and-effect relationship, researchers say a "couch potato" lifestyle does seem to raise the risk for diabetic retinopathy.
According to the US National Eye Institute, the condition "involves changes to retinal blood vessels that can cause them to bleed or leak fluid, distorting vision". Diabetic retinopathy is the most common cause of vision loss for people with diabetes.
Read: How exercise can help you manage your diabetes
Could exercise – or a lack of it – affect risk for the disease? To find out, a team led by Paul Loprinzi at the University of Mississippi tracked outcomes for 282 US diabetes patients.
The patients averaged 62 years of age. Nearly one-third (29 percent) had mild or more severe diabetic retinopathy.
Using an accelerometer device to measure activity, the study found that participants were physically inactive an average of 8.7 hours of the time they were awake each day.
Further studies needed
For each 60-minute daily increase in physical inactivity, the risk for mild or more severe diabetic retinopathy rose by 16 percent, said Loprinzi, who's an assistant professor of health, exercise science and recreation at the university.
Read: Better diet and exercise can prevent diabetes in both sexes
Loprinzi believes the link between a sedentary lifestyle and retinopathy may be due to heightened odds for heart disease, "which in turn may increase the risk of diabetic retinopathy".
One eye expert wasn't surprised by the findings, but said more research is needed.
Further studies are needed "to determine the extent lifestyle plays a role in the development of diabetic eye disease," said Dr Mark Fromer, an ophthalmologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
The study was published online in the journal JAMA Ophthalmology.
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