When it comes to preventing or overcoming diabetes, exercise is a must. What kind of exercise is best?
Strength training, aerobic exercise (cardio), and intervals all increase insulin sensitivity and improve glucose levels, but strength training has special benefits that make it a must for diabetes prevention.
You probably know that diabetes is a disease in which cells in your body become resistant to insulin—a hormone that allows you to use glucose for energy. When insulin resistance develops, blood glucose levels rise to dangerously high levels, wrecking metabolic havoc throughout the body. High glucose levels damage tissue, raising blood pressure, increasing risk of heart disease, and creating inflammation. They also harm the brain, damage nerves, hurt the immune system, and impair vision.
Any form of exercise will improve insulin sensitivity so that the body can better regulate glucose levels, but strength training is especially effective because of the following effects:
It Increases Muscle Mass
Strength training builds muscle, which increases the number of insulin receptor sites you have. For every 10 percent increase in muscle mass you get an 11 percent reduction in insulin resistance.
It Raises Metabolic Rate
Another benefit of increased muscle is that your body requires more energy to sustain itself, raising the number of calories you burn daily.
It Increases Glucose Tolerance
After a vigorous workout, your muscles are depleted of fuel, which automatically improves your body’s ability to handle glucose. Over time, your body is better able to regulate blood sugar and you have less risk of hypoglycemia.
It Increases Insulin Sensitivity
In addition to stimulating the growth of new insulin receptor sites, strength training automatically sensitizes your cells to insulin, meaning less insulin is needed to dispose of the same amount of glucose.
It Regulates Blood Sugar
We’re generally taught that insulin is necessary to allow the body to burn glucose. But strength training can mimic the effect of insulin, increasing the rate of glucose uptake into contracting muscle without the presence of insulin.
It Increases Fat Burning
Diabetics have a reduced ability to burn fat for energy but strength training increases levels of the adrenaline hormones that play a primary role in burning fat.
It Decreases Body Fat
People who regularly train with weights have less body fat than their sedentary peers, while also lowering inflammation, which is a hallmark of diabetes and insulin resistance.
It Improves Bone Strength
Bone density takes a beating when insulin and glucose levels are chronically elevated. Strength training is your best exercise option for building bone strength, while also improving metabolic health and lowering inflammation.
It Increases Energy & Activity Levels
Strength training has a rejuvenating effect on people, allowing them to feel more energized so that they increase their daily life activity and spend less time being sedentary. This pays off by increasing insulin sensitivity and preventing fat gain and dysfunction.
It Lowers Triglycerides & “Bad” Cholesterol
Triglycerides refer to the amount of fat that is circulating in your blood. High levels of triglycerides harm blood vessels and leads to plaque buildup in the arteries, raising your risk of heart disease. Because strength training involves brief bursts of intense activity, it can offset this, also lowering LDL cholesterol and improving the body’s ability to burn fat for energy.
How To Get Started:
Best results will come if you have a structured training program that tells you exactly what you need to do when you hit the gym. Here are some factors to include in your program:
Start by training 2 days a week, working up to 4 once you establish a routine.
Training sessions should last between 45 minutes and one hour including warm-up and cool-down.
Choose multi-joint movements that use the most muscle mass, such as squats, overhead press, lunges, and rows.
Perform 8 to 15 reps for 2 to 4 sets, using weights that are hard to lift by the end of the set.
Always prioritize proper form so that you get the greatest return on your effort and avoid injury.
Incorporate some cardio in the form of intervals to magnify the diabetes prevention benefits. Try 20 minutes of bike intervals in which you work at an intense pace (high RPMs) for 20 seconds alternated with 20 seconds of easy pedaling. Or walk “hills” on the treadmill, increasing the incline for 60 seconds alternated with flat walking for the same time interval.
Eves, N, Plotnikoff, R. Resistance Training and Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2006. 29(8).
Hayashi, T., et al. Exercise regulation of glucose transport in skeletal muscle. American Journal of Physiology. 1997. 273(6 Pt 1):E1039-51.
Pesta, D., et al. Resistance training to improve type 2 diabetes: working toward a prescription for the future. Nutrition and Metabolism. 2017. 14(24).