Exercise Reduces Genetic Risk for Type 2 Diabetes – Neuroscience News

Summary: Active living could significantly reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, even for people with higher genetic susceptibility. The research revealed that high levels of physical activity, particularly of moderate to vigorous intensity, were strongly linked to a lower risk of type 2 diabetes.

Interestingly, highly active participants with a high genetic risk had a lower risk of developing the disease than low-risk but inactive individuals. The findings underscore the importance of physical activity in preventing type 2 diabetes.

Main aspects:

  1. The study used data from 59,325 adults from the UK Biobank who wore accelerometers to track physical activity over seven years.
  2. Those who engage in more than one hour of moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity per day have a 74% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
  3. Individuals with a high genetic risk for diabetes also had a lower risk of the disease if they were highly active than inactive individuals with a low genetic risk.

Source: University of Sydney

New research has revealed that being active could reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, even in people with a high genetic risk of developing the medical condition.

The study conducted by the University of Sydney found that higher levels of total physical activity, particularly moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity, had a strong association with a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

The results were published inBritish Journal of Sports Medicine.

The researchers say the study shows that higher levels of physical activity should be promoted as a primary strategy for the prevention of type 2 diabetes, which affects millions of Australians.

The study involved 59,325 adults from the UK Biobank,who wore accelerometers (wrist-worn activity trackers) at the start of the study and were then followed up for up to seven years to monitor health outcomes.

The UK Biobank is a large-scale biomedical database and research resource containing anonymised genetic, lifestyle and health information from half a million British participants.

This included genetic markers associated with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. People with a high genetic risk score had a 2.4 times greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those with a low genetics.

The study showed that more than one hour of moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity per day was associated with a 74% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared with participants who did less than 5 minutes of physical activity.

This was even when other factors, including genetic risk, were taken into account.

Another compelling finding was that participants with a high genetic risk but were in the most physically active category actually had a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those with a low genetic risk but in the least active category. active.

Associate Professor Melody Ding, senior author, Charles Perkins Center and School of Medicine and Health, says that while the role of genetics and physical activity in the onset of type 2 diabetes is well established, to date the most data were self-reported and there was little evidence that genetic risk could be counteracted by physical activity.

We are unable to control our genetic risk and family history, but this finding provides promising and positive news that through an active lifestyle, much of the excessive risk of type 2 diabetes can be combated.

Associate Professor Ding says moderate-intensity physical activity describes movements that make you sweaty and slightly out of breath, such as brisk walking and general gardening.

Examples of vigorous intensity physical activity include running, aerobic dance, cycling uphill or at a fast pace, and heavy gardening such as digging any activity that makes you short of breath or makes you breathe heavily.

Study to help inform public health guidelines

Diabetes is a global public health problem. In 2021, there were 537 million adults living with diabetes worldwide. Nearly 1.2 million Australians were recorded as having type 2 diabetes in 2020.

The findings also have strong personal significance for Associate Professor Ding, whose father was recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in his 60s.

My father’s side of the family has a history of type 2 diabetes, so the result of the study is extremely encouraging for me and my family. As an already active person, I now have extra motivation to maintain this active lifestyle, says Associate Professor Ding.

Our hope is that this study will inform public health and clinical guidelines so it can help prevent chronic disease for healthcare professionals, organizations and the public.

I’m so happy to share our research findings with a broad audience to let people know that physical activity improves health, especially for people with a high genetic risk. If you have a family history of type 2 diabetes, or even if you don’t, today is the day to start being physically active, says doctoral student Mengyun (Susan) Luo, who led the study.

Learn about this exercise and news about genetic research

Author: Ivy Shi
Source: University of Sydney
Contact: Ivy Shih – University of Sydney
Image: The image is credited to Neuroscience News

Original research: Free access.
“Accelerometer-measured intensity-specific physical activity, genetic risk, and incident type 2 diabetes: A prospective cohort study” by Melody Ding et al. British Journal of Sports Medicine


Accelerometer-measured intensity-specific physical activity, genetic risk, and incident type 2 diabetes: a prospective cohort study


Although 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per day is suggested to prevent type 2 diabetes (T2D), current recommendations are based solely on self-reports and rarely consider genetic risk. We examined the prospective dose-response relationships between total/intensity-specific physical activity and incident T2D accounting for and stratified by different levels of genetic risk.


This prospective cohort study was based on 59,325 UK Biobank participants (mean age=61.1 years in 2013-2015). Total/intensity-specific physical activity was collected using accelerometers and linked to national registries through September 30, 2021. We examined the shape of the dose-response association between physical activity and T2D incidence using restricted cubic splines adjusted and stratified into based on a polygenic risk score (based on 424 selected single nucleotide polymorphisms) using Cox proportional hazards models.


During a median follow-up of 6.8 years, there was a strong linear dose-response association between moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity (MVPA) and incident T2D, even after adjustment for genetic risk. Compared with less active participants, the HRs (95% CI) for higher levels of MVPA were: 0.63 (0.53 to 0.75) for 5,325.9 min/day, 0.41 (0.34 to 0.51) for 26.068.4 min/day and 0.26 (0.18 to 0.38) for >68.4 min/day. Although no significant multiplicative interaction was found between physical activity measures and genetic risk, we found a significant additive interaction between MVPA and genetic risk score, suggesting greater absolute risk differences for MVPA levels among those with genetic risk higher.


Participation in physical activity, especially MVPA, should be promoted especially in those with a high genetic risk of T2D. There may not be a minimum or maximum threshold for benefits. This finding may inform future development of guidelines and interventions to prevent T2D.

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