Diabetes Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: The simple act of going for a 20-minute walk every day can help reduce the risk of diabetes by 15 per cent, a top researcher has said.

In fact, large-scale studies have shown that small steps can have an incremental benefit in preventing the condition, Dr Nick Wareham, director of the MRC Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge, told Gulf News.

“People think that they need to get into their gym clothes and undertake a structured hour of exercise to reduce diabetes risk. That is commendable, but simply going for a 20-minute walk itself helps reduce diabetes risk,” Dr Wareham said.

One cannot change one’s genes, but understanding this genetic susceptibility can help people take the risks of diabetes more seriously

- Dr Raghib Ali, director at the New York Abu Dhabi’s Public Health Research Centre

“Diabetes is an energy-storing disease, and every little step taken to expend energy — like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or parking a little further away from the entrance — can help prevent the condition,” he added.

Dr Wareham was speaking on the sidelines of the Interventions to Reduce the Increasing Burden of NCDs conference at the New York University Abu Dhabi Institute, where researchers called for better understanding about non-communicable diseases, and the political will to counter them.

Referring to diabetes, which affects 20 per cent of the adult population in the UAE, Dr Wareham said some populations are simply better at storing calories, which exposes them to greater obesity and diabetes risk.

This might be the case with Emiratis, who switched from a society in which food was scarce to one in which there is plenty, added Dr Raghib Ali, director at the New York Abu Dhabi’s Public Health Research Centre.

Diabetes is an energy-storing disease, and every little step taken to expend energy — like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or parking a little further away from the entrance — can help prevent the condition

- Dr Nick Wareham, director of the MRC Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge

“One cannot change one’s genes, but understanding this genetic susceptibility can help people take the risks of diabetes more seriously,” he added.

To that end, the University launched the UAE Healthy Future Study in 2015 to better understand the relative importance of the various risk factors in the development of diabetes. A total of 6,300 Emiratis from Abu Dhabi, aged between 18 and 40 years, are currently being followed as part of the cohort study.

“Ninety-seven per cent of the study participants do not have diabetes. But we know that half of all Emiratis develop diabetes by the time they turn 50 years old. By 2026, we hope to have enough understanding of the relative importance of the risk factors that cause them to develop the condition,” Dr Ali said.