How Much Physical Activity Do We Need to Prevent Diabetes? 

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prevent diabetes

Diet and exercise are two important strategies for diabetes prevention.  Researchers analyze how much physical activity is needed to prevent diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is a condition where a hormone called insulin can no longer regulate the movement of glucose into cells.  As a result, glucose remains in the blood where it damages blood vessels and puts individuals at higher risk for heart disease, nerve damage, problems with blood circulation, and possible amputation, blindness, and kidney disease.

Physical activity improves a cell’s ability to respond to insulin and lower blood sugar levels. This is because glucose in the main energy source for muscles and muscle contractions can draw glucose into the cells without insulin. As such, the more muscle you have and use, the more glucose you will remove from the blood. Physical activity has the added benefits of weight management and stress relief.

In a study published this past month in the International Journal of Public Health, researchers from Greece evaluated the effect of physical activity levels on 10-year diabetes incidence. Comprehensive medical information was obtained for 3,042 adults between the ages of 18 and 89 years. The data included basic demographic and health information as well as information on family history, diet, smoking and drinking behaviour, and physical activity. Ten years later, 2,583 of these individuals were found and agreed to have a second set of medical data being taken and recorded.

The researchers found that 191 individuals (12.9%, 97 men and 94 women) had developed diabetes. Those who engaged in very low or low levels of physical activity (less than 150 minutes per week) had greater waist circumferences and triglyceride levels than those who engaged in moderate physical activity (approximately 300-600 mins/wk). Interestingly, high levels of physical activity (more than 600 minutes per week) did not confer any additional protection against diabetes.

The research team noted that two biomarkers of oxidative stress and inflammation were lowest in individuals engaged in moderate physical activity.  As such, the research team supposes that the mechanisms by which physical activity lowers oxidative stress may also lower the risk and thus prevent diabetes.

Written by Debra A. Kellen, PhD

Reference: Koloverou, E., Tambalis, K., Panagiotakos, D. B., Georgousopoulou, E., Chrysohoou, C., Skoumas, I., … & ATTICA study group. (2017). Moderate physical activity reduces 10-year diabetes incidence: the mediating role of oxidative stress biomarkers. International Journal of Public Health, 1-9.doi10.1007/s00038017-1052-8

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