Yoga Reduces the Risk of Diabetes

It is an amazing study. Over 99,000 women were followed for over eight years. The study examined the association of muscle-strengthening activities with the risk of Type 2 Diabetes in women. The results are astounding.

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. The study from Lund University Diabetes Centre, Sweden, followed 99,316 middle-aged (36-55 years) and older women (53-81 years) for 8 years, 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.

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The findings are, in my opinion, very revealing. Although, 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 and Health Canada 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.

Some recommend that adults should undertake muscle-strengthening and conditioning activities such as weight training and yoga on two or more days a week. However, it was unclear whether this form of exercise prevents diabetes.  As expected,  the study found that women who did more than 150 min/week of aerobic exercises had 40% lower risk of developing diabetes as women who did not exercise at all. But women who engaged in at least 150 min/week of aerobic exercise and at least 60 min/week of muscle-strengthening exercise such as yoga were a third as likely to develop diabetes as inactive women. In other words, doing both aerobic exercise and yoga were mutually beneficial.

The surprise is that engagement in muscle-strengthening and conditioning activities, like yoga, lowered the risk of type 2 diabetes independent of aerobic exercise. That is, yoga provided protection against diabetes in women who did no aerobic exercise. In fact, the benefit of yoga was more noticeable in women with high BMIs. The best outcome was from doing both aerobic exercise and muscle-strengthening exercises. An earlier study found the same conclusion for men as well.

To quote the scientists, “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.” To me this adds credence to the yoga I promote which adds weights to the practice to build muscle-strength along with stretching and toning.


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