Study: Regular Exercise Can Lower Type 2 Diabetes Risk, Even in Those with Genetic Predisposition

Regular physical activity has been linked with a lower risk of chronic diseases, but is it enough to override some genetic risks? A new study finds it may be.

Researchers at the University of Sydney recently investigated the impact of moderate-to-vigorous-intensity exercise on type 2 diabetes prevention, among people with a wide range of genetic risk. The findings, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, show that even for those with a genetic pre-disposition, getting that physical activity may help with diabetes prevention.

Man exercising on yoga mat

Melody Ding, senior author and associate professor in the Faculty of Medicine and Health, says, “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.”

To determine whether physical activity could override some of that genetic risk, the researchers used data from more than 59,000 UK Biobank participants. They wore accelerometers at the beginning of the study and were followed for up to seven years. The team examined the genetic type 2 diabetes risk of these participants, with high-risk patients having a 2.4-times higher risk of developing the disease than those with low genetic risk.

Man and woman running outside together

The study showed that overall, an hour of moderate-to-vigorous-intensity exercise each day was linked with a 74% lower risk of developing the disease, compared to those with fewer than five minutes of daily exercise. The researchers say this was true even when factoring in genetics. Further, those with the highest genetic risk who also exercised the most had lower chances of developing the disease than the lowest risk people who exercised the least.

Ding says, “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.

“Our hope is that this study will inform public health and clinical guidelines so that it can help chronic disease prevention for health professionals, organisations and the public.”

So what counts as moderate-to-vigorous exercise? There are the usual things that come to mind, like cycling uphill or running. However, brisk walking, dancing, and general or heavy gardening also count, if they get your respiratory rate up a bit. That means even some hobbies may help you out.

Women dancing together in Zumba class

To read the whole study, click here.

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