High levels of physical activity during the early teen years might reduce the risk of diabetes later in life, a new study suggests.
The research included 300 children who were checked for insulin resistance every year from ages 9 to 16. Insulin resistance is a condition that leads to high blood sugar and is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes.
At age 13, insulin resistance was 17 percent lower among more physically active youngsters than among those who were less active. However, this difference decreased over the next three years and was gone by age 16.
“Insulin resistance rises dramatically from age 9 to 13 years, then falls to the same extent until age 16. Our study found that physical activity reduced this early-teenage peak in insulin resistance but had no impact at age 16,” study author Brad Metcalf, a senior lecturer in physical activity and health at the University of Exeter in England, said in a university news release.
“A reduction in this peak could lessen the demand on the cells that produce insulin during this critical period, which may preserve them for longer in later life,” Metcalf said.
“We are not saying that 16-year-olds don’t need to be physically active, there are other health benefits to be gained from being active at all ages,” he added.
The study was published Aug. 6 in the journal Diabetologia.
The findings could help lead to new ways to reduce insulin resistance in children, Metcalf noted.
In recent decades, there has been a sharp rise in childhood obesity in many industrialized nations, and one in six American children is obese. Obesity is a major factor in insulin resistance.
The U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion outlines how to prevent type 2 diabetes.