The aim of the present study was the evaluation of possible protective effects of exercise against beta-cell damage in streptozotocin (STZ)-induced diabetes in rats. The animals were divided into five groups: the control group, the STZ-induced diabetes group, the STZ-induced diabetes and light-intensity exercise group, the STZ-induced diabetes and moderate-intensity exercise group, and the STZ-induced diabetes and heavy-intensity exercise group. Animals in the exercise groups were made to swim one of three exercise protocols once a day for 12 consecutive weeks. STZ was injected intraperitoneally at a single dose of 50 mg/kg for diabetes induction. Exercise training was continued for 4 weeks prior to STZ administration; these applications were continued end of the study (for 12 weeks). Erythrocyte and pancreatic tissue malondialdehyde (MDA) levels and serum nitric oxide (NO) concentration were measured. Moreover glutathione peroxidase (GSHPx), superoxide dismutase (SOD) and catalase (CAT) were also measured in pancreatic homogenates. Pancreatic beta-cells were examined by immunohistochemical methods. STZ increased lipid peroxidation and decreased the antioxidant enzyme activity significantly. Exercise, especially moderate-intensity exercise has shown protective effect probably through decreasing lipid peroxidation and increasing antioxidant enzyme activity. Islet cell degeneration and weak insulin immunohistochemical staining were observed in STZ induced diabetic rats. Increased intensity of staining for insulin and preservation of beta-cell numbers were apparent in the exercise-applied diabetic rats. Interestingly, the best result was obtained from moderate-intensity exercise. These findings suggest that exercise has a therapeutic and/or protective effect in diabetes by decreasing oxidative stress and preservation of pancreatic beta-cell integrity. (C) 2004 Tohoku University Medical Press.