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New research has revealed that being active could reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, even in people with a high genetic risk of developing the medical condition.

The study conducted by the University of Sydney found that higher levels of total physical activity, particularly moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity, had a strong association with a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The findings were published in British Journal of Sports Medicine.

The researchers say the study shows that higher levels of physical activity should be promoted as the primary strategy for type 2 diabetes prevention.

The study involved 59,325 adults from the UK Biobank, who wore accelerometers (wrist-worn activity trackers) at the start of the study and were then followed for up to seven years to monitor health outcomes.

The UK Biobank is a large-scale biomedical database and research resource containing anonymised genetic, lifestyle and health information from half a million UK participants.

This included genetic markers associated with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. People with a high genetic risk score had a 2.4 times greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those with a low genetics.

The study showed that more than one hour of moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity per day was associated with a 74 percent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared with participants who did less than five minutes of physical activity. This was even when other factors, including genetic risk, were taken into account.

Another compelling finding was that participants with a high genetic risk but were in the most physically active category actually had a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those with a low genetic risk but in the least active category. active.

Associate Professor Melody Ding, senior author, of the Charles Perkins Center and School of Medicine and Health says that although the role of genetics and physical activity in the onset of type 2 diabetes is well established, until now most of the data was self-reported and there was little evidence whether genetic risk could be counteracted by physical activity.

“We are unable to control our genetic risk and family history, but this finding provides promising and positive news that much of the excessive risk of type 2 diabetes can be ‘combat’ through active lifestyles.”

Associate Professor Ding says moderate-intensity physical activity describes movements that make you sweaty and slightly out of breath, such as brisk walking and general gardening.

Examples of vigorous-intensity physical activity include running, aerobic dance, cycling uphill or at a fast pace, and heavy gardening such as digging, all of which make you short of breath or make you breathe heavily.

Study to help inform public health guidelines

Diabetes is a global public health problem. In 2021, there were 537 million adults living with diabetes worldwide. Nearly 1.2 million Australians were recorded as having type 2 diabetes in 2020.

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

More information:
Accelerometer-measured intensity-specific physical activity, genetic risk, and incident type 2 diabetes: a prospective cohort study, British Journal of Sports Medicine (2023). DOI: 10.1136/bjsports-2022-106653

About the magazine:
British Journal of Sports Medicine

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