Randomised controlled trials have shown that exercise training has a mild or moderate favourable effect on many metabolic and cardiovascular risk factors that constitute or are related to the metabolic syndrome (MetS). Epidemiological studies suggest that regular physical activity prevents type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and premature mortality in large part through these risk factors. Although randomized controlled trials with the prevention or treatment of the MetS as the main outcome have not been published, several large randomized controlled trials provide strong evidence that favourable lifestyle changes, including regular physical activity, are effective in the prevention of type 2 diabetes in individuals who are overweight and have impaired glucose tolerance. Compliance with the current recommendations to increase the total volume of moderate-intensity physical activity and to maintain good cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness appears to markedly decrease the likelihood of developing the MetS, especially in high-risk groups. Walking is the most common form of physical activity--it improves health in many ways and is generally safe. Therefore, brisk walking for at least 30 min daily can be recommended as the principal form of physical activity at the population level. If there are no contraindications, more vigorous physical exercise or resistance training should also be considered to obtain additional health benefits. Unstructured and low-intensity physical activity may also decrease the likelihood of developing the MetS, especially when substituted for sedentary behaviours such as watching television. The measurement of maximal oxygen consumption may provide an efficient means to target even individuals with relatively few metabolic risk factors who may benefit from more intensive intervention.