‘Out of Shape’ Young Men at Risk of Diabetes Later?

Being out of shape as a young man may increase your chances of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.

A young man stretches before he begins his diabetes fitness regimen, which includes exercise to prevent type 2 diabetes.

Medically reviewed in February 2022

While it's never too late to get in shape, starting sooner rather than later is a good idea—especially if you’re worried about getting type 2 diabetes. 

A study, published in Annals of Internal Medicine, found that 18-year-old boys with weak muscle strength and poor cardio capacity were three times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes later in life. And, surprisingly, boys with a healthy weight or body mass index (BMI) weren’t off the hook. It didn’t matter if you were thin or overweight, if you were out of shape as a young man, your odds of developing the disease increased. 

Researchers analyzed data of a million Swedish military conscripts between 1969 and 1997; none of the young men had a history of diabetes. Researchers followed the men until 2012 to see who was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. 

They found that about 34,000 of the young men (approximately 2 percent) were later diagnosed with diabetes ; about half were diagnosed after age 46. Both low aerobic and muscular fitness were associated with an increased risk of diabetes. 

While more research needs to be done to better understand the relationship between diabetes and fitness across different populations and age groups, it’s a well-known fact that not exercising is bad for your health in many ways. 

Exercise to prevent diabetes 
There are several things you can do to reduce your risk of diabetes. In addition to eating healthy and maintaining a healthy weight and keeping your stress in check, make exercise a part of your everyday life. 

Even if you haven’t worked out in a while, these tips can help boost your fitness levels in no time: 

  1. Start slow. Start with just 10 minutes a day, and gradually work your way up to at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise each day. Begin with something easy like walking to get your heart rate pumping. After you’ve improved your cardiovascular fitness, walk a little longer or try jogging, swimming or taking a class at your local gym. 
  2. Split up your workout time. If you’re short on time, break up your exercise time into manageable chunks. Try this: Take three 10-minute exercise breaks each day—walk stairs or go around the block or do 10-minutes of jumping jacks. 
  3. Do some strength training. No matter your age, strength training should be part of your workout routine. Aim for three days a week. You don’t have to use weights to build strength—you can use your own body for resistance. 

As always, be sure to consult with your healthcare provider (HCP) before starting a new exercise program. Your HCP can help you choose the best—and safest—exercises for you.

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