Out of Shape at 18, at Risk for Future Diabetes

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Being out of shape at age 18 may increase your risk for eventually developing Type 2 diabetes, regardless of your weight and family history, a new study says.

The study looked at data from more than 1.5 million Swedish men, using tests of muscle strength and aerobic capacity when they were conscripted for military service at age 18, between 1969 and 1997. Their muscle strength had been measured with hand grip and other tests, and their aerobic capacity calculated as they exercised on a stationary bicycle.

With this data in hand, researchers checked the men’s medical records from 1987 to 2012. They found 34,008 cases of Type 2 diabetes over an average 26 years of follow-up. The study is in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Both low aerobic capacity and low muscle strength at 18 were associated with a higher risk for Type 2 diabetes; poor aerobic capacity was a slightly stronger risk factor. Having both weak muscles and low aerobic capacity more than tripled the risk for future diabetes. The effect was independent of other risk factors — body mass index, family history of diabetes, education and socioeconomic status.

“Early life interventions are really important,” said the lead author, Dr. Casey Crump, a professor of family medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. “Prevention of Type 2 diabetes should begin early in life, and should include both aerobic fitness and muscular strength. This is important regardless of people’s weight.”