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The study provides evidence to support the widely held belief "that fitness is beneficial in reducing the risk for prediabetes/diabetes," said Dr. Lisa Chow, from the University of Minnesota, and colleagues.
The study included more than 4,300 adults. The volunteers lived in Birmingham, Ala.; Chicago; Minneapolis; and Oakland, Calif. They all underwent treadmill exercise testing for the first time in 1985 or 1986, when they were between the ages of 18 and 30. Repeat treadmill tests were done during the study's seventh and 20th years.
During that time, those with better heart-lung fitness had a lower risk of developing prediabetes or type 2 diabetes. That was true even when the researchers adjusted for changes in body mass index (BMI -- a rough estimate of body fat based on weight and height).
Specifically, an 8 percent to 11 percent higher fitness level reduced the risk of prediabetes or type 2 diabetes by 0.1 percent.
That higher level of fitness required either vigorous exercise for 30 minutes a day, five days a week, or moderate exercise for 40 minutes a day, five days a week, the researchers said.
While higher levels of fitness were associated with only a small reduced risk of prediabetes or type 2 diabetes on an individual basis, the effect is significant in terms of the overall population, the study author's explained.
"As this benefit remained significant even when adjusting for BMI, exercise programs remain critically important for reducing the development of prediabetes and diabetes," the study authors concluded.
Results of the study were published May 16 in the journal Diabetologia.
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SOURCE: Diabetologia, news release, May 16, 2016