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CAMPERDOWN, Australia — Researchers say you don’t need to spend countless hours at the gym to keep your blood sugar in check. Gardening, dancing, and brisk walking can reduce the risk of diabetes by up to 75 percent, a new study suggests.

Participants who engaged in over an hour of moderate to vigorous daily exercise were 74 percent less likely to develop diabetes than those leading sedentary lifestyles. Notably, this correlation was true even for individuals genetically predisposed to the disease. In fact, their risk decreased even more than that of low genetic risk individuals who were inactive. Simply put, physical activity can overcome the disease-causing genes you inherit from your parents.

“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,” says Associate Professor Melody Ding from the University of Sydney, the study’s senior author, in a media release.

The Australian research team studied 59,325 adults from the UK Biobank, a database containing comprehensive information about the genes and health of approximately half a million British residents. Participants wore wrist accelerometers at the study’s outset, with follow-ups conducted over a period of up to seven years.

Man running outside
Man jogging (Photo by Jane Sundried on Unsplash)

This study is the first to demonstrate that the genetic risk of Type 2 diabetes, which is often associated with unhealthy lifestyles, can be offset by regular exercise. Moderate-intensity physical activities, such as brisk walking and general gardening, cause light sweating and slightly increased breath rate, explains Prof. Ding. On the other hand, vigorous-intensity physical activities like running, aerobic dancing, cycling uphill or at a fast pace, and heavy gardening such as digging, lead to heavier breathing.

With obesity contributing significantly to the prevalence of diabetes – now among the top 10 killers globally – over 37 million people in the United States are affected by the disease, 90 percent of whom have Type 2 diabetes.

Ding, whose father was recently diagnosed with diabetes in his sixties, expressed personal interest in the results.

“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. As an already active person, I now have extra motivation to keep this active lifestyle,” says Associate Professor Ding.

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

Man With Diabetes Checking Blood Sugar Level With Glucometer
(© Andrey Popov – stock.adobe.com)

The researchers hope their study will inform public health and clinical guidelines to aid health professionals, organizations, and the public in chronic disease prevention. They emphasize that promoting higher levels of physical activity is crucial in diabetes prevention strategies.

Currently, diabetes affects the lives of an estimated 537 million adults worldwide. The study established that individuals with a high genetic risk score were 2.4 times more likely to develop the disease.

“I am so delighted to share our research results with a broad audience to let people know that physical activity is health-enhancing, especially for people with 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 PhD candidate Mengyun (Susan) Luo, who led the study.

The study is published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

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South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.

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