Why diabetics should lift weights

If you’re diabetic, you know that struggling with constant fatigue, hunger, blurred vision, and other symptoms can dramatically decrease your quality of life. Strength training is one of the best things you can do to manage your disease.  Today, the American Diabetes Association recommends that patients with Type 2 diabetes begin a strength-training program to help with blood sugar control.

While it was long believed that strengthening fast twitch muscles, those used in weight lifting, might not be beneficial for diabetics, new research proves the opposite. Fast twitch muscles rely on glycogen stores to perform powerful movements and burn sugar. Therefore, weight lifting can help diabetics manage their symptoms and control blood sugar levels by improving insulin resistance, or the way the body processes carbohydrates for energy.

Bigger muscles can store more excess blood sugar than smaller muscles or no muscle at all.  Combining strength training with aerobic activity has an even greater effect on improving insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance. Moreover, increased muscle mass also means a faster metabolism and more calories burned, which can potentially lead to weight loss. For diabetics, weight loss and lean body mass means an improvement in insulin response and lower glucose levels.

Type 2 diabetes is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. While we’ve long known the benefits of cardiovascular activity for reducing the risk of heart disease, only in the past ten years has the medical community recognized the equivalent role strength training plays in reducing risk factors associated with heart disease. In addition to the many known musculoskeletal benefits associated with weight lifting, it can also lower blood pressure. A leaner body also means a lower risk of heart disease. One study showed that strength training not only improves strength and flexibility but also aerobic capacity for healthier heart tissue. The American Heart association now recommends strength training as a means of reducing the risk of heart disease.

A healthy lifestyle and a consistent exercise routine can do a lot to help manage the symptoms of Type 2 diabetes and in some cases, even reverse it.  Start slow and add weight and repetitions as muscle strength increases. Always consult with a personal trainer to ensure you’re doing exercise aligned with your fitness level and speak with a doctor before you start any new exercise program.

Brian Maher is the owner of Philly Personal Training, a Philadelphia-based studio offering 1-on-1 personal training, physical therapy, and nutrition counseling. Philly Personal Training is the only personal training studio or gym in Philadelphia that requires its personal trainers to possess a college degree in an exercise-related field, as opposed to a basic certification.


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