Type 2 diabetes is responsible for 90 percent of the disease burden, which amounts to 23 million cases in the U.S. Genetic and lifestyle factors are pegged as co-conspirators in the development of diabetes, which can lead to high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and kidney damage.

Both unhealthy diet and physical inactivity are thought to contribute to diabetes, which is intimately linked with obesity. Exercise is advised for people with diabetes, but its influence on different fat deposits in the body are unclear. A Dutch study in the journal Radiology has found that type 2 diabetes patients who moderately exercise can reduce fat stores in multiple organs.

"Based on previous studies, we noticed that different fat deposits in the body show a differential response to dietary or medical intervention," said the study's senior author, Dr. Hildo Lamb, a radiologist at the Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands.

Lamb and colleagues examined fat deposits in 12 diabetic patients before and after a 6-month exercise regimen. The program involved between 4 to 6 hours per week of moderate training — two endurance and two resistance sessions — and concluded with a 12-day hiking expedition.

Targeted organ scans with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) revealed that exercise reduced fat volume around heart by 20 percent, although there was no change in overall cardiac function.

Fat around the liver decreased substantially, by 30 percent, and waistlines slimmed too as abdominal fat was lost.

"The liver plays a central role in regulating total body fat distribution," said Lamb. "Therefore, reduction of liver fat content and visceral fat volume by physical exercise are very important to reverse the adverse effects of lipid accumulation elsewhere, such as the heart and arterial vessel wall."

The authors hope to use radiology in the future as a way to determine if a treatment strategy is actually working.

"Metabolic and other effects of exercise are hard to investigate, because usually an exercise program is accompanied by changes in lifestyle and diet."

Source: Jonker JT, de Mol P, de Vries ST et al. Exercise and Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: Changes in Tissue-Specific Fat Distribution and Cardiac Function. Radiology. 2013.