New research by UCL and the University of Cambridge shows that the risk of developing type 2 diabetes can be reduced by up to 26% by cycling or walking briskly for 150 minutes a week. The risk can be reduced by 40% by an hour of moderate to vigorous exercise every day. The study also shows that the risk of developing the disease will be reduced by any amount of physical activity.
According to the Health Survey for England done in 2012, 33% of adults are not meeting the UK Department of Health’s target of 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise a week. The recommendation includes sports such as doubles tennis, gentle cycling and brisk walking.
By analyzing summarized data from over a million people, the study shows that the benefits of exercise are greater for people who exceed this recommended level. The study does however also show that any amount of physical activity is good for you.
The data analyzed comes from 23 studies performed in Europe, the USA, Australia and Asia. The researchers separated the effect of leisure time physical activity from other behavioral factors by combining observations from these studies. This allowed them to obtain better estimates of the effects of different physical activity levels.
Previously, it was difficult to isolate the impact of physical activity alone as studies have often included changes to both physical activity and diet.
Andrea Smith, UCL Health Behavior Research Centre and Institute of Public Health, University of Cambridge led the study and believes the results point to a major potential for physical activity to reverse or slow down the global increase in type 2 diabetes. She adds that the study can be useful for health impact modelling. Health impact modelling often forms part of the evidence base used for policy decisions.
The occurrence of type 2 diabetes is growing rapidly and it is estimated that by 2035, nearly 600 million people will be affected worldwide. This is mainly due to rising obesity levels.
Although it is known that physical activity plays a major role in addressing the growing worldwide epidemic of type 2 diabetes, the new study adds more detail to our understanding of how changes in the levels of physical activity could affect the occurrence of the disease across populations. Smith feels that the results will also lend support to policies to increase physical activity at every level. This could entail building environments that incorporate physical activity into everyday life.
The research was published in the journal Diabetologia.