Lifestyle factors predict type 2 diabetes occurrence, but their effect in high- and low-risk populations is poorly known. This study determines the prediction of low-risk lifestyle on type 2 diabetes in those with and without metabolic syndrome in a pooled sample of two representative Finnish cohorts, collected in 1978-1980 and 2000-2001. Altogether 8,627 individuals, aged 40-79 years, and free of diabetes and cardiovascular disease at baseline were included in this study. A low-risk lifestyle was defined based on body mass index, exercise, alcohol consumption, smoking, and serum vitamin D concentration. The metabolic syndrome was defined according to the International Diabetes Federation including obesity, blood pressure, serum HDL cholesterol, serum triglycerides, and fasting glucose. During a 10-year follow-up, altogether 226 type 2 diabetes cases occurred. Overweight was the strongest predictor of type 2 diabetes (population attributable fraction (PAF) = 77%, 95% confidence interval (CI): 53, 88%). Together with lack of exercise, unsatisfactory alcohol consumption, smoking, and low vitamin D concentration it explained 82% of the cases. Altogether 62% (CI: 47, 73%) of the cases were attributable to the metabolic syndrome and 92% (CI: 67, 98%) to the most unfavourable combination of its components. The metabolic syndrome did not modify the prediction of lifestyle factors but persons with normal blood pressure benefited more from positive changes in exercise, alcohol consumption, and smoking than those with elevated blood pressure (P for interaction = 0.01). In conclusion, modification of lifestyle factors apparently reduces type 2 diabetes risk, especially in persons with normal blood pressure.