Higher fitness levels could reduce risk of developing prediabetes and type 2 diabetes

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A 20-year study finds that people with higher levels of physical fitness are less likely to develop prediabetes or type 2 diabetes.

Physical activity is widely advocated for type 1 and type 2 diabetes management because it can help control blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity. But in this new study, University of Minnesota researchers examined if exercise could prevent prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.

A research team led by Dr. Lisa Chow gathered data from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study, which has investigated the link between exercise and the development of prediabetes and type 2 diabetes for over 20 years.

The study consisted of 4,373 adults who were examined between 1985 and 1986. The participants were balanced on age, sex, race and level of education. CARDIA focused on levels of cardiovascular fitness, and participants were tested through treadmill exercise during the first, seventh and 20th year of the study.

Development of prediabetes and type 2 diabetes was assessed every five years, and researchers found a lower risk among participants with higher cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF). These findings still existed once changes in BMI were accounted for. The results appear in the journal Diabetologia.

In a second study, published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, the researchers confirmed that an 8-11 per cent higher fitness level reduced the risk of developing prediabetes or type 2 diabetes by 0.1 per cent.

Achieving this level of fitness required 30 minutes of vigorous physical activity every day, five days a week, or 40 minutes of moderate physical activity every day, five days a week.

The researchers said that these high-intensity workouts also improve cholesterol and blood sugar levels of patients with type 2 diabetes, but also added that short bursts of exercise can improve heart health.

The authors wrote: “This study is clinically relevant as it provides evidence to support commonly accepted dogma that fitness is beneficial in reducing the risk for prediabetes/diabetes.

“As this benefit remained significant even when adjusting for BMI, exercise programmes remain critically important for reducing the development of prediabetes and diabetes.”