Updated 26 January 2017

Diabetic couch potatoes have higher risk of blindness

A study has found an association between lower levels of physical activity among diabetics and heightened odds for diabetic retinopathy.

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.

Read more:

What is diabetes?

Symptoms of diabetes

Causes of diabetes


Ask the Expert

Diabetes expert

Dr. May currently works as a fulltime endocrinologist and has been in private practice since 2004. He has a variety of interests, predominantly obesity and diabetes, but also sees patients with osteoporosis, thyroid disorders, men's health disorders, pituitary and adrenal disorders, polycystic ovaries, and disorders of growth. He is a leading member of several obesity and diabetes societies and runs a trial centre for new drugs.

Still have a question?

Get free advice from our panel of experts

The information provided does not constitute a diagnosis of your condition. You should consult a medical practitioner or other appropriate health care professional for a physical exmanication, diagnosis and formal advice. Health24 and the expert accept no responsibility or liability for any damage or personal harm you may suffer resulting from making use of this content.

* You must accept our condition

Forum Rules