Exercise Reduces Risk of Type 2 Diabetes, Studies Show

BY:Cara Rosenbloom


Being physically active can help reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. A recent study in Diabetes Care found that women who get more steps have a lower risk of developing diabetes, compared to women who are more sedentary.1 And a study in the journal Metabolites found that men who are more active have a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to men who are more sedentary.2


“It seems that physical activity significantly changes the body’s metabolite profile, and many of these changes are associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes,” says Maria Lankinen, PhD, research scientist, Institute of Public Health and Clinical Nutrition at the University of Eastern Finland, and one of the researchers on the study published in Metabolites. “Increased physical activity also improved insulin secretion.”

“This study showed that taking more steps in a day was associated with a lower risk of diabetes in older adults,” says lead author Alexis C. Garduno, a third-year student at the University of California San Diego and San Diego State University joint doctoral program in public health.


For the older women, each 2,000 step/day increment was associated with a 12% lower hazard rate of type 2 diabetes after adjustment.


“For diabetes among older adults, our findings indicate that moderate- to vigorous-intensity steps were more strongly associated with a lower risk of diabetes than light-intensity steps,” adds John Bellettiere, PhD, an assistant professor of family medicine and public health at UC San Diego, and a co-author on the study.


Dr. Bellettiere adds that within the same cohort of older women, the team studied cardiovascular disease, mobility disability, and mortality.


“For each of those outcomes, light intensity activity was important for prevention, while in each case, moderate to vigorous-intensity activity was always better,” says Dr. Bellettiere.

How Much Exercise is Needed?

Current physical activity recommendations to prevent type 2 diabetes are at least 150 minutes per week at moderate intensity, says Dr. Lankinen.


“However, in our study, the most physically active participants had regular physical activity at least 90 min per week and we still were able to see the health benefits compared to those who had physical activity only occasionally or none,” she adds.


Likewise, in the Diabetes Care study in older women, the researchers found that simply walking around the block one time was considered a moderate-intensity activity in this age cohort.1


“That is because, as people age, the energy cost of activity becomes higher, meaning that it requires more effort to do a given movement,” explains Dr. Bellettiere. “For a middle-aged adult in good health, that same walk around the block would be considered light activity.”


Overall, Dr. Lankinen says to pay more attention to the regularity of physical activity in your daily life, rather than the minutes or type of exercise. It is always important to pick activities that you enjoy, so you are more likely to continue.