Meeting physical activity guidelines is associated with reduced risk for cardiovascular disease in black South African women; a 5.5-year follow-up study

Background: Low levels of physical activity (PA) have been associated with increased risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD) and type 2 diabetes (T2D), but few studies have examined whether meeting international PA guidelines is associated with reduced risk in a black South African (SA) population. The aims of this study were to compare body composition and cardio-metabolic risk factors for CVD and T2D between active and inactive groups (part 1, cross-sectional analysis) and, to determine whether PA level predicts changes in body composition and cardio-metabolic risk factors for CVD and T2D at follow-up after 5.5-years (part 2, longitudinal analysis). Methods: Part 1 included a sample of 240 apparently healthy black SA women (26 ± 7 years) who underwent the following measurements at baseline: PA (Global Physical Activity Questionnaire (GPAQ)), body composition and regional fat distribution (dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry and computerised tomography), blood pressure, fasting glucose, insulin and lipid concentrations. For part 2, a sub-sample of women (n = 57) underwent the same measurements after a 5.5-year period. Results: At baseline, 61% of women were classified as meeting the guidelines for moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity (MVPA) according to GPAQ. Women who were active had significantly lower body weight (p < 0.001), body fat (BMI, fat mass, % body fat, waist circumference, central and appendicular fat mass, all p < 0.001), and measures of insulin resistance (fasting serum insulin and HOMA-IR, both p = 0.01), and higher high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (p = 0.041), compared to the inactive group. At follow-up, all body fat measures increased significantly in both groups and diastolic blood pressure decreased significantly in those who were active at baseline, but did not change in those who were inactive. Conclusions: Meeting PA guidelines was associated with decreased risk for CVD and T2D in black SA women, but did not prevent the increase in body fat over time. Interventions promoting physical activity to specifically address obesity in this high-risk group are recommended.