Researchers in Australia recently found that physical activity is independently associated with a lower risk of diabetic retinopathy (DR) progression.

The prospective 10-year study included 9,018 working-age adults with diabetes who self-reported their physical activity levels. Baseline levels were graded as low (fewer than five sessions per week), medium (five to 14 sessions per week) and high (more than 14 sessions per week). The investigators used retinal photocoagulation treatment as a surrogate for DR progression during the follow-up period.

When low-level physical activity was used as a reference, the following effect modifiers demonstrated significant associations between physical activity and retinal photocoagulation incidence: male sex, obesity, not using insulin, family history of diabetes and those without cardiovascular disease.

The study authors concluded that a strong independent association exists between exercise and DR progression in their cohort, but that further studies are needed to explore “specific physical activity type and quantity using objective measurement for prevention of DR onset and progression,” guide care and improve patient outcomes.

Yan X, Han X, Wu C, et al. Effect of physical activity on reducing the risk of diabetic retinopathy progression: 10-year prospective findings from the 45 and Up Study. PLoS One. January 14, 2021. [Epub ahead of print].