Outpacing Genetics: How Exercise Cuts the Risk of Type 2 Diabetes by up to 74%
Can our lifestyle choices outpace our genetic blueprint?
When it comes to type 2 diabetes, the answer seems to be a resounding 'yes'.
A groundbreaking study from the University of Sydney unveils an empowering revelation: even for those with a high genetic risk of type 2 diabetes, adopting an active lifestyle with regular moderate to vigorous-intensity exercises can slash the risk of developing this condition by a staggering 74%.
"We are unable to control our genetic risk and family history, but this finding provides promising and positive news that through an active lifestyle, one can 'fight off' much of the excessive risk for type 2 diabetes,” states Associate Professor Melody Ding from the Faculty of Medicine and Health at the University of Sydney, who led the research.
Exercise: The Natural Shield Against Diabetes
Physical activity of moderate intensity includes pursuits that get you slightly out of breath and perspiring, such as brisk walking and light gardening. Vigorous-intensity activities include more strenuous exercises such as running, aerobic dancing, and heavy gardening tasks like digging. Such exercises make you breathe heavily or pant, pushing the cardiovascular system to work harder.
The implications of the study are highly relevant. With type 2 diabetes affecting almost four million people in the UK and hundreds of millions worldwide, any lifestyle change that can mitigate risk is of immense public health interest.
Activity Overcomes Genetics
The researchers analysed data from 59,325 adults from the UK Biobank, a substantial database housing genetic, lifestyle, and health information from half a million individuals. All participants wore accelerometers, devices to track their physical activity, at the onset of the study and were monitored for up to seven years.
Data analysis revealed that people with a high genetic risk score had 2.4 times the risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to those with a low genetic risk score. However, the study found that more than an hour of moderate to vigorous-intensity physical activity daily was linked to a 74% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared with those who did less than five minutes of such activity.
Remarkably, even participants with a high genetic risk who were categorised as the most physically active had a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those with a low genetic risk but categorised as the least active.
These findings hold strong personal significance for Ding, whose father was recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in his sixties. "My dad's side of the family has a history of type 2 diabetes, so the result of the study is extremely heartening for my family and myself," she reflects, adding that this has spurred her on to maintain her own active lifestyle.
As part of her closing remarks, Ding expresses hope that these findings will influence public health and clinical guidelines. "Our hope is that this study will inform public health and clinical guidelines so that it can help chronic disease prevention for health professionals, organisations, and the public," she concludes.
Published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, these findings underscore the transformative power of lifestyle choices. They remind us that, armed with knowledge and determination, we can combat chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes through regular physical activity.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. What is moderate-intensity physical activity?
This includes exercises that make you sweat and slightly out of breath, such as brisk walking and general gardening.
2. What is vigorous-intensity physical activity?
Vigorous activities, such as running, aerobic dancing, cycling uphill or at a fast pace, and heavy gardening like digging, push your cardiovascular system to work harder. They cause you to breathe heavily or pant.
3. How much physical activity do I need to reduce my risk of type 2 diabetes?
According to the study, more than an hour of moderate to vigorous-intensity physical activity per day is associated with a 74% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to doing less than five minutes of such activity.
4. Can physical activity counteract my genetic risk of type 2 diabetes?
While physical activity cannot change your genetic risk, it can help you 'fight off' a significant portion of the excessive risk for type 2 diabetes. Even people with a high genetic risk but in the most active category had a lower risk of developing the condition than those with a low genetic risk but in the least active category.