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Does Being an Athlete Protect Individuals from Diabetes Later in Life?

Feb 27, 2014

Older athletes recover faster from many acute conditions than their peers…. 

This study followed 392 former male athletes and 207 controls; the mean age of the subjects was 72.7 + 6.1 years. In 2008, a clinical study was done on individuals who answered a questionnaire in 1985. Participants with a history of diabetes underwent a 2 hour 75g OGTT and the volume of physical activity was determined by self-reported questionnaires. The former athletes were categorized into three groups based on their active career sport; endurance, mixed, and power sports. Results showed that compared to the controls, former athletes had a significantly lower risk of type 2 diabetes. The study also showed that former athletes who still work out have an even lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The risk of type 2 diabetes decreased as the amount of physical activity was increased. Former athletes in this study also had significantly lower risk of impaired glucose tolerance than the controls.

In conclusion, this study illustrated that former athletes have a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes and impaired glucose tolerance. Being physically active as a young adult significantly reduces the risk of developing diabetes later in life.

Practice Pearls:
  • Physical activity can help with balance and coordination which may prevent many geriatric patients from being sent to nursing homes.
  • Some studies suggest that at middle age, the average body loses about 3 kg of lean muscle every decade.
  • Weight-bearing exercise is recommended in geriatric patients that can handle this form of activity; weight-bearing exercises help reduce the loss of bone density.

Laine M, Eriksson J, Kujala U, et al. A former career as a male elite athlete- does it protect against type 2 diabetes in later life. Diabetologia. 2014; 57:270-274.