Medical science has well established the benefits of aerobic exercise for people with type 2 diabetes. Now, researchers believe that a diabetes and exercise plan also should include a regular weight-training routine. (The American Diabetes Association recommends that all people, even those without chronic illness, strength train at least twice a week.) Strength training has been shown to improve the symptoms of type 2 diabetes and, when part of a workout plan that includes aerobics, can put the person with diabetes on the path to long-term good health.
Diabetes and Exercise: The Benefits of Strength Training
Strength training can help people with diabetes by improving the body's ability to use insulin and process glucose. This occurs because:
- You experience an increase in lean muscle mass, which boosts your base metabolic rate and causes you to burn calories at a faster rate. "Burning these calories helps keep your blood glucose levels in check," notes Sherin Joseph, MPH, a health education manager at Montefiore Health System's Williamsbridge Family Practice Center in Bronx, New York.
- The ability of your muscles to store glucose increases with your strength, making your body better able to regulate its blood sugar levels.
- Your body fat-to-muscle ratio decreases, reducing the amount of insulin you need in your body to help store energy in fat cells.
Even better results have been observed when people with type 2 diabetes combine a weight training routine with regular aerobic exercise, adds Joseph. The two forms of exercise work together to create better health benefits than either does on its own.
Diabetes and Exercise: Protection Against Complications
Strength training also can help guard against some complications of diabetes by:
- Reducing your risk of heart disease
- Helping control blood pressure
- Increasing your levels of good cholesterol while reducing bad cholesterol levels
- Improving bone density
- Preventing atrophy and loss of muscle mass due to age
Diabetes and Exercise: Starting a Weight Training Routine
A weight-training routine involves performing movements that work specific muscle groups in the body. A strength-training workout is broken down into exercises, reps, and sets:
- The exercise is the specific movement that works a muscle group; for example, a bicep curl or a chest press.
- A rep, or repetition, is one completed motion; for example, one rep of a bicep curl is lowering the dumbbell and then raising it to the starting position.
- A set is the number of reps performed together; sets are separated by a short rest period.
The American Diabetes Association's guidelines for a weight-training routine call for:
- Strength training two or three days every week, with at least one day off between sessions (to allow muscles to rest and rebuild)
- Strength training can include hand weights, elastic bands, or weight machines, reminds Joseph.
- At least 8 to 10 weight exercises per session to work all the major muscle groups of the upper and lower body
- Exercises of low or moderate intensity. Low intensity involves two or three sets of 15 reps with lighter weights. Moderate intensity involves two or three sets of 8 to 12 reps with heavier weights. There should be 2 to 3 minutes of rest between sets.
- A workout time of 20 to 60 minutes per weight-training session
Diabetes and Exercise: Practice Common Sense
To ensure good results and prevent injuries, follow these common-sense rules:
- Get your doctor's clearance. As with any exercise program, you should check with your doctor before starting a weight-training regimen.
- Focus on your form. Always observe proper posture. Be sure to perform each exercise exactly as required, even if it means you need to use less weight.
- Breathe. Exhale while lifting the weight and inhale while lowering it.
- Allow for variety. Every now and then change the exercises in your workout or alter the number of sets or reps you are doing. Your body adapts to exercise, and your progress can plateau if you don't keep your body guessing.
- Ask for help. If you need some guidance, consider working with a trainer or joining a weight-training class at your local gym or YMCA.
Always give yourself time to recuperate. Don't work out using a muscle or joint that feels painful. In other words, don’t overdo it.
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