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Does muscle strength affect the risk of type 2 diabetes?

Researchers at the University of Iowa investigated the link between muscle strength and the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is a serious public health concern, with over 27 million Americans having the condition according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People with type 2 diabetes have insufficient production or decreased sensitivity to the hormone insulin which regulates blood glucose. This can lead to long-term complications such as heart disease, nerve damage, eye damage and kidney failure.

Physical inactivity increases the risk of type 2 diabetes

Several factors are known to increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes including being overweight or inactive. Some research has shown that aerobic exercise and improving cardiorespiratory fitness can reduce type 2 diabetes risk. However, less is known about the effects of other aspects of physical activity such as improved muscle strength.

Researchers at the University of Iowa investigated whether muscle strength may also have an effect on risk of type 2 diabetes, independent of cardiorespiratory fitness. They recently reported their findings in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

The researchers analyzed data from 4,681 adults taking part in the Aerobics Center Longitundinal Study (conducted at the Cooper Clinic, Dallas, Texas) which investigated the link between lifestyle factors with health outcomes. Participants completed initial and follow-up examinations.

None of the participants included in the analysis had diabetes at the start of the study. Their muscular strength was assessed using leg and bench press measures and treadmill exercise tests. From this, the researchers calculated a muscle strength score and categorized participants into lower, middle or upper muscle strength groups.

Moderate muscle strength is linked to a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes

The participants were followed for an average of 8.3 years, during which time 4.9% (229 individuals) developed Type 2 diabetes. Those with a moderate level of muscular strength had a 32% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to the lower strength group. There was no significant association between the upper levels of muscular strength and the development of type 2 diabetes.

Several factors contribute to muscle strength including resistance exercises. There was limited information on the amount of resistance exercise in the study participants. However, a small group showed a moderate link between muscle strength and frequency of resistance exercise.

Improved muscle strength can be achieved by simple exercise at home

More research is needed to develop detailed recommendations on the amount of resistance exercise needed to improve muscle strength and reduce type 2 diabetes risk. The results of this study indicate that even small amounts of resistance exercise may be helpful in reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes by increasing muscle strength.

Dr. Angelique Brellenthin, one of the lead authors on the study, highlighted that this can be achieved simply at home, without the need for expensive gym memberships. “You can get a good resistance workout with squats, planks or lunges. Then, as you build strength, you can consider adding free weights or weight machines,” she recommended.

Written by Julie McShane, Medical Writer


  1. Wang YH, Lee DC, Brellenthin AG, et al. Association of muscular strength and incidence of type 2 diabetes. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. Article in Press. Doi:10.1016/j.mayocp.2018.08.037
  2. Iowa State University, Press release, 11 Mar 2019. Moderate muscle strength may lower risk for type 2 diabetes.
Julie Mcshane MA MB BS
Julie Mcshane MA MB BS
Julie studied medicine at the Universities of Cambridge and London, UK. Whilst in medical practice, she developed an interest in medical writing and moved to a career in medical communications. She worked with companies in London and Hong Kong on a wide variety of medical education projects. Originally from Ireland, Julie is now based in Dublin, where she is a freelance medical writer. She enjoys contributing to the Medical News Bulletin to help provide a source of accurate and clear information about the latest developments in medical research.


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