In Early Teens, More Exercise Can Slash Diabetes Risk

For adolescents who have insulin resistance - a key precursor for developing type 2 diabetes - a little extra exercise can go a long way in helping them avoid health complications that could shorten their lives, according to new findings.

A study from the University of Exeter followed 300 children from the ages of 9 to 16, with the intent to determine how physical activity affects insulin resistance, body fat and other indicators of metabolic health.

Researchers measured activity using electronic motion sensors called accelerometers, which were worn around the children's waists for a set period of time each year.

Exercise helps younger teens, but maybe not older adolescents

The study found that more active 13-year-old adolescents had lower rates of insulin resistance than their less active peers, regardless of body fat. Yet when teens became older - by age 16 - this extra exercise wasn't associated with any protective benefits when it comes to insulin resistance.

Study author Dr. Brad Metcalf explained:

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. 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.

The findings suggest that physical activity may need to be further emphasized by parents and school programs in a teen's younger years - especially if the child has certain risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes.

The study does not suggest older teens get a hall pass from being active, Metcalf warned, as there are plenty of other health benefits to be reaped from exercise. Moreover, older teens with insulin resistance can still ward off type 2 diabetes with proper lifestyle and dietary changes.

"These findings have implications for future interventions designed to improve the insulin sensitivity of children," the authors concluded.

Source: University of Exeter

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