Anders Grøntved and colleagues examined whether women who perform muscle-strengthening and conditioning activities have an associated reduced risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
It is well established that aerobic physical activity can lower the risk of type 2 diabetes (T2D), but whether muscle-strengthening activities are beneficial for the prevention of T2D is unclear. This study examined the association of muscle-strengthening activities with the risk of T2D in women.
Methods and Findings
We prospectively followed up 99,316 middle-aged and older women for 8 years from the Nurses' Health Study ([NHS] aged 53–81 years, 2000–2008) and Nurses' Health Study II ([NHSII] aged 36–55 years, 2001–2009), who were free of diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular diseases at baseline. Participants reported weekly time spent on resistance exercise, lower intensity muscular conditioning exercises (yoga, stretching, toning), and aerobic moderate and vigorous physical activity (MVPA) at baseline and in 2004/2005. Cox regression with adjustment for major determinants for T2D was carried out to examine the influence of these types of activities on T2D risk. During 705,869 person years of follow-up, 3,491 incident T2D cases were documented. In multivariable adjusted models including aerobic MVPA, the pooled relative risk (RR) for T2D for women performing 1–29, 30–59, 60–150, and >150 min/week of total muscle-strengthening and conditioning activities was 0.83, 0.93, 0.75, and 0.60 compared to women reporting no muscle-strengthening and conditioning activities (p<0.001 for trend). Furthermore, resistance exercise and lower intensity muscular conditioning exercises were each independently associated with lower risk of T2D in pooled analyses. Women who engaged in at least 150 min/week of aerobic MVPA and at least 60 min/week of muscle-strengthening activities had substantial risk reduction compared with inactive women (pooled RR = 0.33 [95% CI 0.29–0.38]). Limitations to the study include that muscle-strengthening and conditioning activity and other types of physical activity were assessed by a self-administered questionnaire and that the study population consisted of registered nurses with mostly European ancestry.
Our study suggests that engagement in muscle-strengthening and conditioning activities (resistance exercise, yoga, stretching, toning) is associated with a lower risk of T2D. Engagement in both aerobic MVPA and muscle-strengthening type activity is associated with a substantial reduction in the risk of T2D in middle-aged and older women.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Worldwide, more than 370 million people have diabetes mellitus, a disorder characterized by poor glycemic control—dangerously high amounts of glucose (sugar) in the blood. Blood sugar levels are normally controlled by insulin, a hormone released by the pancreas. In people with type 2 diabetes (the commonest form of diabetes), blood sugar control fails because the fat and muscle cells that normally respond to insulin by removing excess sugar from the blood become less responsive to insulin. Type 2 diabetes, which was previously known as adult-onset diabetes, can often initially be controlled with diet and exercise, and with antidiabetic drugs such as metformin and sulfonylureas. However, as the disease progresses, the pancreatic beta cells, which make insulin, become impaired and patients may eventually need insulin injections. Long-term complications of diabetes, which include an increased risk of cardiovascular problems such as heart disease and stroke, reduce the life expectancy of people with diabetes by about 10 years compared to people without diabetes.
Why Was This Study Done?
Type 2 diabetes is becoming increasingly common worldwide so better preventative strategies are essential. It is well-established that regular aerobic exercise—physical activity in which the breathing and heart rate increase noticeably such as jogging, brisk walking, and swimming—lowers the risk of type 2 diabetes. The World Health Organization currently recommends that adults should do at least 150 min/week of moderate-to-vigorous aerobic physical activity to reduce the risk of diabetes and other non-communicable diseases. It also recommends that adults should undertake muscle-strengthening and conditioning activities such as weight training and yoga on two or more days a week. However, although studies have shown that muscle-strengthening activity improves glycemic control in people who already have diabetes, it is unclear whether this form of exercise prevents diabetes. In this prospective cohort study (a study in which disease development is followed up over time in a group of people whose characteristics are recorded at baseline), the researchers investigated the association of muscle-strengthening activities with the risk of type 2 diabetes in women.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers followed up nearly 100,000 women enrolled in the Nurses' Health Study (NHS) and the Nurses' Health Study II (NHSII), two prospective US investigations into risk factors for chronic diseases in women, for 8 years. The women provided information on weekly participation in muscle-strengthening exercise (for example, weight training), lower intensity muscle-conditioning exercises (for example, yoga and toning), and aerobic moderate and vigorous physical activity (aerobic MVPA) at baseline and 4 years later. During the study 3,491 women developed diabetes. After allowing for major risk factors for type 2 diabetes (for example, diet and a family history of diabetes) and for aerobic MVPA, compared to women who did no muscle-strengthening or conditioning exercise, the risk of developing type 2 diabetes among women declined with increasing participation in muscle-strengthening and conditioning activity. Notably, women who did more than 150 min/week of these types of exercise had 40% lower risk of developing diabetes as women who did not exercise in this way at all. Muscle-strengthening and muscle-conditioning exercise were both independently associated with reduced diabetes risk, and women who engaged in at least 150 min/week of aerobic MVPA and at least 60 min/week of muscle-strengthening exercise were a third as likely to develop diabetes as inactive women.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that, among the women enrolled in NHS and NHSII, engagement in muscle-strengthening and conditioning activities lowered the risk of type 2 diabetes independent of aerobic MVPA. That is, non-aerobic exercise provided protection against diabetes in women who did no aerobic exercise. Importantly, they also show that doing both aerobic exercise and muscle-strengthening exercise substantially reduced the risk of type 2 diabetes. Because nearly all the participants in NHS and NHSII were of European ancestry, these results may not be generalizable to women of other ethnic backgrounds. Moreover, the accuracy of these findings may be limited by the use of self-administered questionnaires to determine how much exercise the women undertook. Nevertheless, these findings support the inclusion of muscle-strengthening and conditioning exercises in strategies designed to prevent type 2 diabetes in women, a conclusion that is consistent with current guidelines for physical activity among adults.
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001587.
The US National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse provides information about diabetes for patients, health-care professionals and the general public, including information on diabetes prevention (in English and Spanish)
The UK National Health Service Choices website provides information for patients and carers about type 2 diabetes and explains the benefits of regular physical activity
The World Health Organization provides information about diabetes and about physical activity and health (in several languages); its 2010 Global Recommendations on Physical Activity for Health are available in several languages
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides information on physical activity for different age groups; its Physical Activity for Everyone web pages include guidelines, instructional videos and personal success stories
More information about the Nurses Health Study and the Nurses Health Study II is available
The UK charity Healthtalkonline has interviews with people about their experiences of diabetes
MedlinePlus provides links to further resources and advice about diabetes and about physical exercise and fitness (in English and Spanish)