Weight training with diabetes can lead to better blood sugar control and a reduced risk of complications, among other health benefits. Here's how to incorporate this type of exercise into your routine.
By Dennis Thompson, Jr.
Medically Reviewed by Bhargavi Patham, MD
Research has established the benefits of regular aerobic exercise: Running, swimming, and biking all can reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer, and — yes — diabetes, according to the National Institutes of Health. But now scientists believe that people with diabetes can benefit from a regular weight, or strength, training routine as well. In fact, the American Diabetes Association recommends that all people, even those without chronic illness, strength train at least twice a week. Not only can lifting weights help improve type 2 diabetes symptoms, but when part of a workout plan that includes aerobics, it can put you on the path to long-term good health.
Reaping the Benefits of Weight Training
Diabetes is marked by the body's inability to process glucose and use insulin efficiently, but strength training can help with those issues. Here's how:
You can 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, health education manager at Montefiore Health System's Williamsbridge Family Practice Center in the 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's fat-to-muscle ratio decreases, reducing the amount of insulin you need in your body to help store energy in fat cells.
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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.
Protecting 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 age-related loss of muscle mass
Starting a Weight-Training Routine
A weight-training routine involves performing movements that work specific muscle groups in the body. Each workout is broken down into exercises, reps, and sets in the following ways:
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 involves lowering the dumbbell and raising it to the starting position.
A set is the number of reps performed together, and sets are separated by a short rest period.
The American Diabetes Association suggests the following guidelines for a weight-training routine:
Strength training should be practiced 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.
Perform at least 8 to 10 weight exercises per session, to work all the major muscle groups of the upper and lower body.
Exercises can be of low or moderate intensity. Low intensity involves two or three sets of 15 reps with lighter weights, and moderate intensity involves two or three sets of 8 to 12 reps with heavier weights. There should be two to three minutes of rest between sets.
The workout should last 20 to 60 minutes per weight-training session.
Practicing Common Sense
To help 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. Try to maintain proper posture, and 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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