Over time, exposure to stress can cause wear and tear on the body. Referred to as allostatic load, this measure of stress exposure can indicate an increased risk for a number of chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. UGA researchers found physical activity reduces those risks among a Hispanic population.
In a study recently published online in the Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health, Jennifer Gay, an assistant professor of health promotion and behavior at the College of Public Health, examined whether regular physical activity was able to counteract the accumulation of allostatic load in high-risk Mexican-Americans.
“Instead of looking at blood pressure, cholesterol or inflammation individually, allostatic load allows us to examine these markers together to get a more comprehensive picture of what someone’s risk for disease is,” Gay said.
Gay and her team used data collected as part of the Cameron County Hispanic Cohort. CCHS is a randomly selected, community-recruited study of more than 2,000 Mexican-American adults 18 or older living on the Texas-Mexico border in Brownsville, Texas.
A combination of risk factors was used to score each person’s allostatic load: high blood pressure risk, which indicates risk for heart disease; metabolic risk can signal a risk for diabetes; and inflammatory risk.
CCHC participants are much less physically active than the rest of the U.S. population and have been found to have twice the rate of Type 2 diabetes as the rest of the country.
“Some folks have signaled that this area of south Texas might be the canary in the coal mine for the rest of the country, giving us a warning about what the country might look like in 20 years if we don’t make the appropriate behavior changes,” Gay said.
The study confirmed previous evidence that CCHS participants who engaged in 150 minutes or more of activity per week, as prescribed by the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, had lower allostatic load and were at lower risk for disease than comparable CCHS participants who did not exercise.