Study shows exercise can ‘fight off’ diabetes risk

Physical activity can counteract the risk of Type 2 diabetes, research from the University of Sydney has found.

Type 2 diabetes is a significant global health concern, affecting millions of individuals worldwide. The disease is associated with numerous complications, as well as an increased risk of premature mortality. Recent research conducted by the University of Sydney has shed light on the potential of physical activity in preventing the onset of type 2 diabetes, even in individuals with a high genetic risk for the disease [1]. This study underscores the importance of exercise as a key strategy for chronic disease prevention and offers promising news for individuals seeking to reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Longevity.Technology: The worldwide burden of type 2 diabetes is substantial, and the disease carries significant implications for public health. Type 2 diabetes is associated with various complications, including cardiovascular diseases, kidney problems and nerve damage. Moreover, individuals with type 2 diabetes often experience a shortened lifespan and reduced healthspan due to the increased risk of developing other chronic conditions. The study’s findings add to the clarion call for effective prevention strategies that alleviate this burden on individuals, families and healthcare systems worldwide.

The research, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, involved 59,325 adults enrolled in the UK Biobank project. Participants wore accelerometers on their wrists to measure their physical activity levels and the researchers also considered genetic markers associated with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes. The study followed the participants for up to seven years to assess their health outcomes.

The study findings revealed that higher levels of physical activity, particularly moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity, were strongly associated with a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Engaging in over an hour of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity per day was linked to a remarkable 74 percent lower risk of developing the disease compared with individuals who engaged in less than five minutes of physical activity. Importantly, these associations held true even after accounting for genetic risk factors [1].

Associate Professor Melody Ding, a senior author of the study, emphasized the significance of physical activity in mitigating the risk of type 2 diabetes.

She explained: “We are unable to control our genetic risk and family history, but this finding provides promising and positive news that through an active lifestyle, one can ‘fight off’ much of the excessive risk for type 2 diabetes [2].”

Moderate-intensity physical activities that induce sweating and slightly increased breathing, such as brisk walking and general gardening, were highlighted as beneficial. Vigorous-intensity activities like running, cycling uphill, and aerobic dancing were also found to be effective.

The researchers hope that their study will inform public health guidelines and clinical recommendations to promote physical activity as a cornerstone of chronic disease prevention. The study’s lead researcher, PhD candidate Mengyun (Susan) Luo, emphasized the potential health benefits of physical activity, particularly for individuals with a high genetic risk.

She said: “I am so delighted to share our research results with a broad audience to let people know that physical activity is health-enhancing, especially for people with high genetic risk. If you have a family history of type 2 diabetes, or even if you don’t, today is the day to start being physically active [2].”

The findings also hold a strong personal meaning for Associate Professor Ding, whose father was recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in his sixties.

“My dad’s side of the family has a history of type 2 diabetes, so the result of the study is extremely heartening for my family and myself. As an already active person, I now have extra motivation to keep this active lifestyle,” says Associate Professor Ding, adding that the research team hope this study will inform public health and clinical guidelines and lead to an improvement in chronic disease prevention [2].