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When It Comes to Diabetes, More Exercise Is Better, Study Finds


The findings in Diabetologia separate the effects of activity from diet and other behaviors across 23 studies covering more than 1 million people.

Researchers are learning more and more about the benefits of lifestyle change in preventing both the onset and progression of diabetes, and it’s becoming clear that while any amount of exercise helps, the more, the better.

A new study in the journal Diabetologia finds that those who complete recommended exercise guidelines of 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week can reduce their risk of diabetes by 26%. But if they boost their activity to an hour of moderate or vigorous exercise a day, they cut their risk by 40%, the study found.

The guidelines were based on those in the United Kingdom, where the study was based. US guidelines call for 150 minutes of moderate activity or 70 minutes of vigorous activity a week. The US Surgeon General has campaigned to get Americans walking at least 22 minutes per day, which would complete the moderate activity guidelines over the course of a week.

The study culled data from more than 1 million people, covering 23 studies from the United States, Asia, Australia, and Europe, giving researchers the opportunity to glean the effects of exercise from other factors, such as diet and other behavior. Many lifestyle studies look at the effects of diet and exercise in combination, but researchers wanted to look at the effects of physical activity alone.

“Our results suggest a major potential for physical activity to slow down or reverse the global increase in type 2 diabetes (T2D) and should prove useful for health impact modeling, which frequently forms part of the evidence base for policy decisions,” said Andrea Smith, PhD, of the University of Cambridge, who led the study.

An estimated 29.1 million Americans have diabetes; all but 1.25 million have T2D. Rising obesity rates worldwide suggest that 600 million people could have T2D by the year 2035 if current trends continue.

The World Health Organization has recommended steps, such as soda taxes and global health education measures, to reverse the tide of obesity and diabetes. Just this week, PepsiCo announced a 3-part initiative to reduce the amount of sugar, salt, and fat in its food and beverages, along with efforts to promote sustainability and better hiring practices.


Smith AD, Crippa A, Woodcock J, Brage S. Physical activity and incident type 2 diabetes mellitus: a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. Diabetologia. 2016; doi:10.1007/s00125-016-4079-0.

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