Air pollution is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes (T2D). When you exercise, this increases your chances of breathing in air pollutants, which can be harmful to your health. Over 91% of the world’s population lives in a place where air quality is not good. As a result, the relationship between air pollution and physical activity is an important public health concern. In a new study, researchers looked at the links between regular physical activity, exposure to particles in the air that can cause health problems (called PM2.5 particles), and the risk of developing T2D in Taiwan, a place with lots of air pollution.
Physical activity helps prevent diabetes even in polluted areas
We know that lower levels of physical activity are linked to higher risk for T2D. For example, moderate and low physical activity (such as walking) are associated with higher T2D risk compared to high levels of exercise like running. Participants exposed to more unhealthy air pollutants, such as PM2.5, also had a higher risk of diabetes than participants exposed to less air pollution. The participants with high physical activity and low exposure to air pollution had a 64% lower risk of T2D than those with low physical activity and more air pollution exposure. These data indicate that high levels of regular physical activity combined with low levels of long-term PM2.5/air pollution exposure can lower your risk of developing T2D. It also shows that low levels of regular physical activity combined with high levels of long-term PM2.5 exposure increase your T2D risk.
Physical activity is a safe way to lower risk of diabetes for people who live in polluted areas
Even with different levels of air pollution, the benefits of physical activity remain. A previous study also showed that pollutants inhaled during exercise are only a small fraction of those inhaled overall. This could explain why the effect of physical activity on diabetes risk is similar even in places with different levels of pollution.