New research has found that exercise can significantly reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, even for those with a high genetic risk. The study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, followed 60,000 healthy, middle-aged adults over seven years and found that those exercising for at least 68 minutes a day were 74% less likely to have type 2 diabetes than those who exercised for less than five minutes a day. This was true even for those with a high genetic risk score, who were 2.4 times more likely to develop the disease due to their genes.
The study also found that any amount of physical activity, even just 5 to 25 minutes a day, could help lower diabetes risk if it was done at a moderate to vigorous intensity. The mechanism behind this is well established, with exercise burning glucose for fuel, clearing it from the bloodstream and making the body more sensitive to insulin.
Moderate activity means breathing a little harder and breaking a light sweat, while vigorous activity is harder still, with individuals breathing hard and fast and working up a sweat. The study found that for diabetes prevention, moderate to vigorous activity was key.
Strength training was also found to be effective for preventing type 2 diabetes, with a research review in Sports Medicine finding that people with a high genetic risk saw big improvements in body fat, blood lipids, and glycemic control after 12 weeks of strength training at a moderate intensity.
The study highlights how powerful exercise can be for preventing chronic disease, with exercise also improving the way genes function, particularly those related to metabolic health. However, even a month of training can make a difference, according to lead author Mark Chapman, PhD, an assistant professor of integrated engineering at the University of San Diego.
The take-home message from the study is that doing something is better than doing nothing, and doing more is even better. Exercise is already a front-line strategy for preventing and managing type 2 diabetes, and this new research emphasizes its importance in preventing the disease, even for those with a high genetic risk.