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

Exp Physiol. 2020 Apr;105(4):579-589. doi: 10.1113/EP088220. Epub 2020 Mar 13.


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.

Keywords: diabetes; exercise; immunity; physical activity; β-cell.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / physiology
  • Blood Glucose / metabolism
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Glucose / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Insulin / metabolism
  • Insulin Resistance / physiology
  • Insulin-Secreting Cells / metabolism
  • Insulin-Secreting Cells / physiology*
  • Physical Conditioning, Animal / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology


  • Blood Glucose
  • Insulin
  • Glucose