The benefits of physical exercise for the health of the pancreatic β-cell: a review of the evidence

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


External organisations

  • Functional and Mechanistic Safety
  • Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute
  • University of Exeter
  • Department of Restorative Dentistry, Dental School of Piracicaba, University of Campinas - UNICAMP, Piracicaba, SP, Brazil.
  • Department of Diabetes and Endocrinology


NEW FINDINGS: What is the topic of this review? This review discusses the evidence of the benefits of exercise training for β-cell health through improvements in function, proliferation and survival which may have implications in the treatment of diabetes. What advances does it highlight? This review highlights how exercise may modulate β-cell health in the context of diabetes and highlights the need for further exploration of whether β-cell preserving effects of exercise translates to T1D.

ABSTRACT: Physical exercise is a core therapy for type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Whilst the benefits of exercise for different physiological systems are recognised, the effect of exercise specifically on the pancreatic β-cell is not well described. Here we review the effects of physical exercise on β-cell health. We show that exercise improves β-cell mass and function. The improved function manifests primarily through the increased insulin content of the β-cell and its increased ability to secrete insulin in response to a glucose stimulus. We review the evidence relating to glucose sensing, insulin signalling, β-cell proliferation and β-cell apoptosis in humans and animal models with acute exercise and following exercise training programmes. Some of the mechanisms through which these benefits manifest are discussed.

Bibliographic note

© 2020 The Authors. Experimental Physiology © 2020 The Physiological Society.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)579-589
Number of pages11
JournalExperimental Physiology
Issue number4
Early online date3 Feb 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2020


  • β‐cell, diabetes, exercise, immunity, physical activity