Research Snapshot: Improved Fitness Linked to Reduced Type 2 Diabetes Risk

The link between fitness level and developing type 2 diabetes has been commonly linked and hypothesized.

Until now, many studies have found that improved fitness can help reduce risk of developing diabetes, but many of those studies have been limited in scope, population or period of time studied.

In a new University of Minnesota Medical School study, researchers found that increasing fitness could slow the onset or reduce risk of prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.

The longest-running study of its kind, researchers looked at more than 4,000 participants from Minnesota, California, Alabama and Illinois, with data spanning over more than two decades. The study was published in Diabetologia.

“Current fitness level is the most important determinant for prediabetes and diabetes,” said Lisa Chow, M.D., lead author of the study and associate professor of medicine in the division of diabetes, endocrinology and metabolism. “Increasing fitness reduces the development of prediabetes and diabetes even when accounting for changes in weight.”

The study found that higher levels of cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) reduced diabetes risk. CRF refers to the heart and respiratory system’s ability to bring oxygen to the rest of the body when exercising, or engaging in physical activity.

With an increase in CRF, pre diabetes or diabetes risk reduced by 0.1 percent. People need to engage in 30 minutes of vigorous physical activity for five days a week, or 40 minutes of moderate physical activity five days a week to achieve that level of CRF.

It’s a modest change at an individual level, but when compared to a population level, the increase is significant.

According to the CDC, more than 9 percent of the U.S. population has diabetes, and more than 25 percent of those people are undiagnosed. One in three Americans are expected to develop type 2 diabetes at some point in their lives.

“The findings from our study reiterate the need for programs and initiatives focused on improving fitness at a population level,” Chow said. “With resource to support more active lifestyles, we can reduce this major health burden and improve lives of those affected by the disease.”