Although aerobic exercise is well-touted for helping manage diabetes, strength training has a host of benefits as well. Find out how to get started.
When it comes to type 2 diabetes management, strength training doesn’t always get the attention that aerobic exercises like running, walking, and bicycling do. But the truth is that a well-rounded fitness regimen should include both — and strength training has some unique benefits.
While “strength training” may conjure images of bodybuilders lifting heavy weights, it doesn’t have to be that extreme. Strength training is defined simply as exercise you perform by moving part of your body against resistance. “That’s why it’s sometimes called resistance training, Good examples are exercises that use stretchy elastic bands, or free weights like dumbbells and barbells. Calisthenics — exercises that use your own body weight — such as push-ups and sit-ups qualify as strength training exercise, too.
Its recommended you do at least two sessions of strength training a week, in addition to a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity. “Strength training twice a week is good; three times a week is preferable. You should have at least one day of rest between sessions, A strength-training session should include a minimum of five exercises that work major muscle groups in the arms, legs, and trunk.
5 Benefits of Strength Training
For people with diabetes, regular strength training can:
1. Help you use insulin more effectively.Insulin is a hormone that allows blood sugar (glucose) to enter your cells, where it’s used for energy (or stored for later). Pumping your muscles helps push glucose into them; regular strength training helps your body become more efficient at transporting glucose from your bloodstream to your muscles.
The more efficient your muscles are at using glucose, the less insulin you need. Because strength training sensitizes muscles to insulin, they require less insulin to bring your blood sugar down.
2. Lower your blood sugar.
In addition to helping your body be more efficient at transporting insulin to your muscles, strength training also allows your muscles to absorb more glucose. That means there’s less glucose circulating in your bloodstream while you're exercising and for a while after.
3. Build muscle that can lead to weight loss.
The more you keep your muscles exercising, the more calories you will burn. The more calories you burn, the more weight you can lose.
Strength training can also increase the rate at which you burn calories even when you’re not exercising. That’s because strength training builds muscle, and muscle requires more calories than fat just to maintain itself.
4. Lower the risk for heart disease.
As you may know, heart disease is a common complication of type 2 diabetes. But a regular exercise routine that includes strength training can help lower a number of risk factors related to heart disease, including obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. A sedentary lifestyle only increases the risk of these conditions, making exercise an efficient way to lower your risk of multiple health problems.
5. Help strengthen your bones.High blood sugar can mean more glucose attaches to the protein in bones (collagen) and thus weakens their structure, according to the ADA. “People with diabetes are at increased risk for fractures. “They may also have other complications, such as neuropathy (numbness) in the legs and feet, meaning they are more prone to falls.” Strength-training exercises can help improve your bone strength as well as your balance and mobility, all of which lessens the chance that you'll fall.
How to Start Strength Training
If you haven't been active or if you have heart disease, high blood pressure, or other complications of diabetes, talk with your doctor before starting an exercise program.
Then, consider working with a healthcare practitioner or certified fitness instructor who can help you design a strengthening workout that would be best for you, Kemmis says. You might also look for classes that combine resistance and aerobic exercise. Some household activities such as heavy gardening also can help build muscle, the ADA notes.
When you're ready to get started, you may want to begin your strength-training routine by lifting small weights and doing exercises like squats, biceps curls, and crunches.
Start slow to avoid injury and build up gradually from there Kemmis says. As you build strength, you can increase:
Start the progression by increasing the weight or resistance and then increasing the number of repetitions and finally increasing the days per week. Unless your doctor instructs you otherwise, your ultimate goal should be to train three times a week and complete three sets of eight to 10 repetitions of each exercise to the point of muscle fatigue.
A safety tip: If you’re unable to breathe evenly, back off on the intensity of your resistance training
Remember, a well-rounded exercise program should include strength training and aerobic exercise. This will likely provide better benefits to blood glucose control than either exercise alone.