Fighting diabetes means not just keeping down body fat, but even building more muscle mass, according to a new study.

University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) researchers reported that their studies indicated more muscle mass would do more to prevent diabetes than previously thought. They say that while its still important to reduce fat, the maintenance of muscle is an important part of therapy.

"Our findings suggest that beyond focusing on losing weight to improve metabolic health, there may be a role for maintaining fitness and building muscle mass," says assistant professor Preethi Srikanthan, of UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine.

Researchers in the school's division of endocrinology surveyed 13,644 adults in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey III (NHANESIII) to look for a connection between higher muscle mass and the bodies' insulin resistance.

They found that sarcopenia (a low level of total body muscle mass) was associated with increased insulin resistance in both non-obese and obese individuals, and also with higher levels of blood glucose in obese individuals.

A precursor symptom of diabetes is the body's resistance to absorbing insulin.

"While we knew there was a relationship between metabolic disorders and very low muscle mass, we were surprised to find that this relationship was preserved across the range of muscle mass," Srikanthan said.

What the scientists found in their study was that for every 10% increase in muscle mass, there was a 11% decrease in the bodies' resistance to insulin. The muscle-mass increase also amounted to a 12% decrease in pre-diabetes. Pre-diabetes is a condition associated with people on the edge of contracting diabetes due to their blood's high glucose levels.

The study was cross-sectional rather than interventional, so its not certain that the increase in muscle would help, but the strong association demonstrates the importance of relative muscle mass.

The American Diabetes Association says that there are currently 79 million people in the U.S. that have the pre-diabetes condition. On top of that, 25.8 million have type 2 diabetes. The total number makes up one third of the entire U.S. population.

To battle the current trends, most doctors would recommend exercise to their at-risk patients in order to lower their risk. However, there are some that have trouble shedding pounds, even though they exercise.

Genetics or other medical conditions can sometimes cause individuals to gain weight even when they're trying to keep it off. The new study offers a chance for these individuals to shift their focus in diabetes prevention.

"We should consider monitoring improvements in muscle mass in addition to changes in fat," Srikanthan added.