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Study Finds Former Elite Athletes Have a Reduced Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

Update Date: Nov 15, 2013 06:03 PM EST

Studies have repeatedly reported that physical activity and a healthy diet are two ways to lower one's risk of developing several health conditions. Since elite athletes often follow a strict diet and exercise regularly, their risks of health issues should ideally be lower when compared to average people. In a new study, researchers set out to see if being an elite athlete does in fact reduce one's risk of health conditions. The research team found that being an elite athlete led to a reduction in type 2 diabetes' risk by 28 percent later on in life.

For this study, the research team headed by Dr. Merja Laine from the University of Helsinki in Finland examined questionnaires that were sent out in 1985, 1995 and 2001. A total of 1,518 former elite athletes participated while another 1,010 participants acted as controls. In 2008, the participants were asked to partake in a follow-up clinical trial. Out of the 1,518 former elite athletes, 747 were still alive. Of this group, 392 participated in the follow-up session. For the control group, 436 people were still alive and 207 agreed to be a part of the follow-up trial.

Overall, 537 participants did not have a history of diabetes. These participants had to undergo an oral glucose tolerance test. Over the course of two hours, the participants were administered 75 grams of glucose. The participants were asked to report their leisure time physical activity (LTPA), which the researchers used to calculate into metabolic equivalent hours.

The group of former elite athletes was assessed based on the type of sport they were involved with, which were endurance, mixed and power. The team found that for endurance athletes, their risk of type 2 diabetes was reduced by 61 percent. For mixed and power athletes, their risks were reduced by 21 and 23 percent respectively. However, the results from these two last groups were found to be statistically insignificant.

"With ageing, the former athletes maintained their physically active lifestyle better than the controls," the authors stated. "A former career as an elite athlete protected from both type 2 diabetes and IGT in later life. In addition, the volume of current leisure-time physical activity was inversely associated with the prevalence of type 2 diabetes."

Overall the researchers found that being an elite athlete reduced one's risk of developing type 2 diabetes later on in life. The study was published in Diabetologia.

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