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Diabetologia. 2016 Dec;59(12):2527-2545. Epub 2016 Oct 17.

Physical activity and incident type 2 diabetes mellitus: a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies.

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Health Behaviour Research Centre, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, 1-19 Torrington Place, London, WC1E 6BT, UK.
Institute of Public Health and Primary Care, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK.
Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, Solna, Sweden.
UKCRC Centre for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR), University of Cambridge, Institute of Metabolic Science, Cambridge, UK.
MRC Epidemiology Unit, University of Cambridge, Institute of Metabolic Science, Cambridge, UK.



Inverse associations between physical activity (PA) and type 2 diabetes mellitus are well known. However, the shape of the dose-response relationship is still uncertain. This review synthesises results from longitudinal studies in general populations and uses non-linear models of the association between PA and incident type 2 diabetes.


A systematic literature search identified 28 prospective studies on leisure-time PA (LTPA) or total PA and risk of type 2 diabetes. PA exposures were converted into metabolic equivalent of task (MET) h/week and marginal MET (MMET) h/week, a measure only considering energy expended above resting metabolic rate. Restricted cubic splines were used to model the exposure-disease relationship.


Our results suggest an overall non-linear relationship; using the cubic spline model we found a risk reduction of 26% (95% CI 20%, 31%) for type 2 diabetes among those who achieved 11.25 MET h/week (equivalent to 150 min/week of moderate activity) relative to inactive individuals. Achieving twice this amount of PA was associated with a risk reduction of 36% (95% CI 27%, 46%), with further reductions at higher doses (60 MET h/week, risk reduction of 53%). Results for the MMET h/week dose-response curve were similar for moderate intensity PA, but benefits were greater for higher intensity PA and smaller for lower intensity activity.


Higher levels of LTPA were associated with substantially lower incidence of type 2 diabetes in the general population. The relationship between LTPA and type 2 diabetes was curvilinear; the greatest relative benefits are achieved at low levels of activity, but additional benefits can be realised at exposures considerably higher than those prescribed by public health recommendations.


Cohort studies; Dose–response; Meta-analysis; Physical activity; Systematic review; Type 2 diabetes

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