Although physical activity is widely reported to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes in individuals with prediabetes, few studies have examined this issue independently of other lifestyle modifications. The aim of this review is to conduct a systematic review of controlled trials to determine the independent effect of exercise on glucose levels and risk of type 2 diabetes in people with prediabetes (IGT and/or IFG). A detailed search of MEDLINE (1966-2006) and EMBASE (1980-2006) found 279 potentially relevant studies, eight of which met the inclusion criteria for this review. All eight studies were controlled trials in individuals with impaired glucose tolerance. Seven studies used a multi-component lifestyle intervention that included exercise, diet and weight loss goals and one used a structured exercise training intervention. Four studies used the incidence of diabetes over the course of the study as an outcome variable and four relied on 2-h plasma glucose as an outcome measure. In the four studies that measured the incidence of diabetes as an outcome, the risk of diabetes was reduced by approximately 50% (range 42-63%); as these studies reported only small changes in physical activity levels, the reduced risk of diabetes is likely to be attributable to factors other than physical activity. In the remaining four studies, only one reported significant improvements in 2-h plasma glucose even though all but one reported small to moderate increases in maximal oxygen uptake. These results indicate that the contribution of physical activity independent of dietary or weight loss changes to the prevention of type 2 diabetes in people with prediabetes is equivocal.