Weight Training to Manage Diabetes

Weight Training to Manage Diabetes

If you have diabetes, chances are your doctor has already recommended daily brisk walks or swimming to help regulate your blood glucose. Perhaps you’ve already joined a gym so you can expand your options for aerobic exercise and take your fitness to the next level. If you are doing these things, don’t stop. But you’re leaving out a major exercise component that offers unique benefits.

Benefits of gaining strength

Aerobic exercise is beneficial to diabetics because it increases capillarity of muscle cells and causes those cells to produce more mitochondria to keep up with increased demand for ATP. However, at typical aerobic intensities, muscles use fat more than glucose to meet energy demands. Those muscles typically look red precisely because of capillarity and mitochondrial biogenesis, but another fiber type, which looks white, seemingly plays a key role in helping regulate blood glucose. 

White muscle fibers derive their energy anaerobically. They are more common in weightlifters, sprinters, and strength athletes of all kinds who must produce maximum muscular output over time frames substantially less than one minute. White muscle fibers prefer glucose to fat as their chief energy source. As a result, weight training may aid in muscular development that, in turn, improves the way your body manages blood glucose.

Muscles store glucose as glycogen for future use. If you have more muscle, your capacity for storing excess blood glucose is enhanced, so you are less likely to store extra as fat. Visceral fat, in particular, is known to act as an accessory endocrine organ, pumping out pro-inflammatory substances that further raise the risk of type 2 diabetes and its complications. More recently, researchers have suggested that all fat, beyond some base level, may be pro-inflammatory to some degree.

Weight training may also protect against diabetic complications indirectly by:

  • Controlling blood pressure.
  • Increasing HDL cholesterol while reducing LDL.
  • Preventing sarcopenia, the gradual age-related loss of muscle tissue.
  • Reducing heart disease risk.
  • Enhancing bone density, thereby reducing fracture risk.

What are the recommended guidelines for a weight-training program?

The American Diabetes Association suggests that you strength train at least twice, and preferably three times, per week. Furthermore, the same guidelines recommend that each session be full-body, working all major muscle groups of the upper and lower body. Include compound exercises like squats, deadlifts, rows, and pressing movements. Sessions should each be 20 to 60 minutes long and should not be conducted on consecutive days. So, for example, you might strength train on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for 45 or 50 minutes each time.

Intensity matters. The ADA recommends that you keep the intensity low to moderate, especially at first, completing two or three sets of 8 to 15 reps on about 10 different exercises. Strive to do each repetition with perfect form and allow about two minutes between sets. Do not hesitate to ask for help if you don’t know how to do an exercise properly, and of course, consult with your doctor before beginning any program.

Traditional cardio is a great way to normalize blood glucose, but if you combine it with strength training, you will experience improved health and perhaps greater longevity. For diabetics and non-diabetics alike, the key to optimum health is effort and consistency. Life is an endurance sport, and the future rests with the strong