Diabetes and Strength Training

The Diabetes Information section of the Joslin web site has numerous articles on Diabetes & Exercise, including a series of demonstrations of Resistance Band Routines by Jacqueline Shahar, M. Ed., RCEP, CDE, manager of exercise physiology in the clinic at Joslin Diabetes Center.

We all know that aerobic exercise is good for us. It helps us strengthen our cardiovascular system, lose weight, improve our mood and lower blood glucose. But exercises that require the use of oxygen (aerobic) are not the only exercises we should be doing.

As our society has become more technological, it has become more sedentary. We are no longer getting the workout we used to get from everyday activities. So, strength training has become important, and it is especially important as we get older.

After age 30 muscle mass declines about 3 percent per decade, due to a decrease in testosterone, lack of physical activity and reduced ability to use up fat stores. With the reduction of muscle mass comes a corresponding increase in fat.

While muscle does not change to fat, our body composition often does changes with aging and life style habits. We often loss muscle and gain fat in areas of the body that can adversely affect our health and increase the risk for Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and certain cancers.

Many find these changes ascetically unsightly, but the real danger is the decline in a person’s ability to do the activities of daily living. Climbing stairs, getting up from bed, and lifting every day objects require muscle strength.

No matter what your age, strength or resistance training improves the quality and size of your muscle. While you may not see or feel changes immediately, you should realize that following a regular strength training program can…

  • slow and even reverse the effects of aging on muscle strength,
  • burn extra calories to help you lose weight,
  • improve insulin sensitivity.

What Does Strength Training Involve?

All people with diabetes should discuss starting an exercise program with their health care provider. People with diabetes complications such as nephropathy, retinopathy and severe cardiovascular disease should be cautious with exercises that increase blood pressure.  No matter your current fitness level or the complications you may have, an exercise physiologist who is a certified diabetes educator can plan a program that will work for you.

Strength training uses weights or resistance to provide our muscles something to work against. There are many different types of strength training:

  • weight lifting
  • resistance bands or tubes
  • some types of yoga practices
  • some callisthenic type exercises (such as push-ups)

In order to be effective you should do strength training exercises between two and three times per week.

If you use weights, start with 1 round of 10 to 12 repetitions. Choose a weight load that feels heavy when you reach the top of the repetition cycle. As you get more proficient you should be able to do 2-3 sets of repetitions. You should do exercises that work each of the major muscle groups: the legs, back, shoulders, chest, abdomen, and buttocks.

Remember properly warming up and cooling down are important.

Combining strength training with aerobic exercises will give you an all around workout that will keep your body fit and toned and your blood glucose in control.

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10 Responses to Diabetes and Strength Training

  1. I have lived with type 1 diabetes for 23 years. As a personal trainer and marathon runner, I have seen all of the hundreds of benefits regular exercise, including cardiovascular, resistance, and flexibility training, has brought to my life and body. More health care professionals need to prescribe EXERCISE as a way to better living. I started Diabetes Outside as a way to get the message out!

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  10. This article does a great job highlighting several benefits of strength training for diabetes patients, including the improvements in insulin sensitivity. I would like to add that as a result of the increase in insulin sensitivity, diabetes patients can often reduce the amount of medicines (metformin or even insulin) they use, or stop completely when they train properly.
    Reference: http://www.fitness-science.org/index.php/faqs-and-fables/136-should-diabetes-patients-exercise

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