People who achieve the UK government's target of 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week can reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 26 per cent, according to new research.

Conducted by University College London (UCL) and published in the journal Diabetologia, the research is touted as the most comprehensive study on the impact of exercise, independent of other behavioural factors such as diet, on a person’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Findings include that while any amount of physical activity can reduce the risk of developing the disease, the more a person exercises the lesser the risk of diabetes.

Regular exercisers – people who carry out an hour of moderate to vigorous exercise every day – can reduce their risk of getting type 2 diabetes by 40 per cent.

“Our results suggest a major potential for physical activity to slow down or reverse the global increase in type 2 diabetes,“ said Andrea Smith from the UCL’s Health Behaviour Research Centre, who led the study which was conducted jointly with Cambridge University.

“The results should prove useful for health impact modelling, which frequently forms part of the evidence base for policy decisions.“

The prevalence of type 2 diabetes is growing rapidly due to rising obesity levels and is estimated to reach nearly 600 million cases worldwide by 2035.

The study analysed data from more than a million people, combining 23 studies carried out in the USA, Asia, Australia and Europe.

By combining observations from these studies, the researchers were able to separate out the effect of leisure time physical activity from other behavioural factors, and obtain better estimates of the effects of different physical activity levels.

Previous studies have often included changes to both diet and physical activity, making it difficult to isolate the impact of physical activity alone.