Diabetes and Weightlifting: Strength Training Has Big Advantages for Those with Diabetes
It’s no secret to most of us living with diabetes that fitness is an important part of our diabetes management plan. After all, physical activity makes it easier to control blood sugar and helps shed those excess pounds that can contribute to diabetes-related complications like heart disease, nerve damage, kidney disease, and many others.
Perhaps it’s because diabetes is so intimately linked with cardiovascular issues, that most people immediately think aerobic or “cardio” training when they think about fitness and diabetes. While there is certainly no disputing the tremendous advantages of aerobic training, such as running, walking, and biking in terms of diabetes management, there are some compelling reasons to add strength training to your routine if you’re not already doing it.
What is Strength Training?
Strength training means performing muscle-building exercises using some type of resistance. This resistance can be in the form of free weights, exercise bands, weight training equipment, even body weight exercises. So why is this form of training so important for those living with diabetes?
Benefits of Strength Training
Studies have shown that adding strength training to your fitness routine can pay big dividends, particularly for those living with Type 2 diabetes. In fact, research cited in a post published on EverydayHealth.com points to the fact that strength training might actually be more beneficial to blood sugar control than aerobic exercise for people managing Type 2 diabetes. To this end, the American Diabetes Association now recommends that people with diabetes should aim for two to three resistance training sessions each week. Let’s take a deeper look into seven clear benefits of strength training for those with diabetes.
Improved blood sugar control
Strength training requires the body to use a substantial amount of blood glucose for energy. Initially, the body draws this blood glucose from the muscles. Once that’s used up, however, it begins to take blood glucose from the liver and the bloodstream. In other words, you end up using the excess glucose in your body, which helps you avoid unwanted highs. It also “empties out” the bloodstream allowing it to safely accept new blood glucose after your next meal, which, in turn, makes it easier for you to keep those blood sugar tests reading where you want them.
Improves glucose storage
Much of the glucose created when you eat sugars and carbohydrates is stored in your body’s muscles. Here’s the thing, well-trained muscles do a much better job of this because they’ve built a higher capacity to store blood sugar in the form of glycogen. When more blood sugar is stored in the muscles, it’s not building up in the bloodstream and that makes it easier for you to manage your diabetes more effectively.
Prevents age-related muscle loss
People with Type 2 diabetes are already more prone to losing muscle mass than individuals without the disease, and the situation only gets worse as a person grows older. Weight training and other resistance exercises can help increase muscle mass or, at the very least, slow muscle loss as a person ages. This is a big deal because stronger muscles equate to greater agility and balance. The longer you keep your muscles strong, the more likely you are to remain healthy and maintain your independence.
It builds bone density
While most people with Type 2 diabetes have normal bone mineral density scores, they still have a higher risk for broken bones. Weight-bearing exercises can help build bone strength in key fracture areas like the arms, legs, hips and spine.
It contributes to weight loss
If you think only running on a treadmill or taking an aerobics class can help you burn calories, think again. By adding strength training to your routine, you’ll not only burn calories and lose fat, you’ll also build muscle. Strength training can also boost your metabolism, making you less prone to put on weight.
Reduces the risk of other diabetes-related complications
Don’t you just love it when doing one thing for your diabetes health, actually helps you manage your disease in other areas? This is the case with strength training. Not only will it make it easier to control your blood sugar, but it can also directly help reduce your risk of many diabetes-related complications.
For example, strength training improves blood flow. This can be a huge bonus for those who experience prolonged periods of elevated blood sugar and are at a higher risk for diabetic neuropathy or retinopathy.
Neuropathy is nerve damage that most often occurs in the feet and hands, resulting in pain and numbness. Retinopathy is nerve damage that impacts the eyes, causing vision problems. Both of these conditions are the result of a lack of blood flow to the area, which happens because high blood sugar has led to damage or blockages in key blood vessels.
Because strength training improves blood flow, it can help lower the risk of experiencing these complications.
Reduces insulin resistance
Strength training such as weightlifting helps cut down the visceral fat in your body. This nasty fat is the one that wraps around the body’s organs and produces hormones that prevent it from using insulin effectively. As you know, diabetes is an insulin-resistant condition, but why add to the problem? Strength training can help your body use the insulin it produces (Type 2 diabetes) more effectively. It can also help you process insulin treatments administered by syringe or insulin pen with better results.
Three Steps to Getting Started
If you’d like to start adding strength training to your fitness routine, here are three steps to remember.
- Speak with your diabetes physician
Never make any changes to your diabetes health plan without first consulting your doctor. There may be exercises that present risks you haven’t considered, or you may have additional conditions that prevent certain strength exercises. The last thing you want to do is get after it too rapidly. Talk with your care team to formulate a safe and effective plan built around your needs.
- Consider a personal trainer
If you’re new to strength training, here’s something to remember – doing things the wrong way can result in serious injury. Working with a professional trainer can help you adhere to the proper form, select exercises suitable for your fitness level, and assist you in monitoring your progress, so you can gradually build up your intensity level.
- Know your blood sugar
The biggest risk of exercising when you have diabetes is a sudden drop in blood sugar (hypoglycemia). Be sure to test your blood sugar prior to exercising. According to the CDC, measurements between 100 mg/dL and 200 mg/dL are ideal. If you’re below 100 mg/dL, eat a healthy snack to elevate blood sugar before beginning. If you’re above 250 mg/dL, avoid exercising and address your high blood sugar right away. Exercising with measurements this high can be dangerous and subject you to serious complications, such as ketoacidosis.
Exercise is widely accepted to be a key component of controlling blood sugar and managing diabetes. What’s not so widely known is that studies show combining aerobic activity with strength training yields the greatest results. If you haven’t considered weightlifting or other resistance exercises before, maybe it’s time to start. As with any aspect of your diabetes health and treatment program, the first step is talking with your doctor.