Pancreatic Fat and Beta Cell Dysfunction Reduced by Exercise, May Reduce Risk for T2D

spinning bicycles
spinning bicycles
Investigators examined the effects of exercise training on pancreatic fat and beta cell function.

Short-term exercise reduces both pancreatic ectopic fat and beta cell dysfunction, according to a study recently published in Diabetologia.

The parallel-group, randomized, controlled trial included 54 sedentary participants between 40 and 55 years of age, of whom 28 were healthy men and 26 were men and women with either prediabetes or type 2 diabetes. Prediabetes was defined as an impaired glucose tolerance and/or fasting glucose, and type 2 diabetes was defined in accordance with American Diabetes Association specifications. Participants were assigned in equal numbers using random permuted blocks to either a 2-week sprint interval training group or a continuous, medium-intensity training group. 

Pancreatic fat content was the primary outcome and was measured using magnetic resonance spectroscopy. Beta cell function, whole-body insulin sensitivity, and uptake of glucose and pancreatic fatty acid were secondary outcomes. The analyses in this study were based on intended treatment.

The group of men with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes had higher beta cell dysfunction and pancreatic fat than the healthy group of men at baseline, although the 2 groups had comparable uptake of glucose and pancreatic fatty acid. Pancreatic fat decreased as a result of exercise in both men with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes (from 8.7% to 6.7%) and healthy men (from 4.4% to 3.6%; P=.036 for time effect). Pancreatic substrate uptake did not change between the 2 groups (P≥.31 for time effect). Men and women with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes showed similar improvement in beta cell function as a result of exercise.

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The researchers conclude that “[two] weeks of exercise training improves beta cell function in prediabetic or type 2 diabetic individuals and decreases pancreatic fat regardless of baseline glucose tolerance. This study shows that short-term training efficiently reduces ectopic fat within the pancreas, and exercise training may therefore reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.”


Heiskanen MA, Motiani KK, Mari A, et al. Exercise training decreases pancreatic fat content and improves beta cell function regardless of baseline glucose tolerance: a randomised controlled trial [published online May 2, 2018]. Diabetologia. doi: 10.1007/s00125-018-4627-x