Women who exercise for 3.5 hours a week (equivalent to half an hour per day) can reduce their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by a third, according to new research published in the journal PLoS Medicine. The findings suggest a woman’s diabetes risk can be reduced by 30 to 40 per cent when resistance exercise, such as weight lifting or yoga, is incorporated into weekly physical activity.
The study, carried out by scientists from Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Denmark, tracked the health of 99,316 middle-aged and older women over an eight year period. The women did not have the condition at the start of the study. However, during the eight year period, 3,491 women went on to develop Type 2 diabetes. Researchers studied the effects of weekly time spent on resistance exercise, lower intensity muscular conditioning exercises (yoga, stretching, toning) and aerobic moderate and vigorous physical activity.
It found lifting weights and doing press-ups or similar resistance exercises was linked with a lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. The research also backs up previous studies that have shown how muscle-strengthening exercise can help to improve diabetic control among existing sufferers.
Current NHS physical activity guidelines recommend that adults should carry out muscle-strengthening exercise at least twice a week. This should be combined with moderate intensity aerobic activity for at least two and a half hours a week or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic activity.
Our findings suggest that incorporating muscle-strengthening and conditioning activities with aerobic activity, according to the current recommendation for physical activity, provides substantial benefit for diabetes prevention in women
Participants who engaged in at least 150 minutes of aerobic activity and at least an hour of muscle-strengthening activities a week had the most substantial risk reduction – cutting their odds of developing Type 2 diabetes by a third.
“Our findings suggest that incorporating muscle-strengthening and conditioning activities with aerobic activity, according to the current recommendation for physical activity, provides substantial benefit for diabetes prevention in women,” the authors wrote.
Type 2 diabetes develops when the insulin-producing cells in the body are unable to produce enough insulin, or when the insulin that is produced does not work properly.
Insulin enables the body to use sugar as energy and store any excess in the liver and muscle. Our genes and lifestyles influence our chances of developing Type 2 diabetes. Carrying excess weight increases a person’s risk. If you are overweight, every kilogram you lose could reduce your risk by up to 15%, according to Diabetes UK.
Dr Richard Elliott, research communications officer at Diabetes UK, said: “Despite limitations to which this research can be applied to women in general, it underlines the message that leading an active, healthy lifestyle can help to reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes. We know for certain that the best way to reduce your risk is to maintain a healthy weight by eating a healthy, balanced diet and by taking regular physical activity. At this time of year, many people are looking for an easy way to lose weight and be more active. We recommend finding something you enjoy as you are more likely to stick with it and stay motivated.”