It’s no surprise that getting regular exercise is one of the best strategies for managing diabetes. But only 40% of people with type 2 diabetes are meeting the recommended amount of aerobic exercise. And even far fewer—14%—are getting enough of the type of exercise that may be even better for lowering blood glucose levels: resistance training.
Resistance training is often associated with weight lifting. But using your own body weight to perform push-ups is also an effective form of resistance training. (Can’t do a regular push-up? Try them on your knees, placing pillows or soft cushions under your knee caps for support.)
Why Is Resistance Training Important For Diabetes?
A 2013 study in BioMed Research International was one of the first to assess how resistance training helps improve markers of type 2 diabetes. Basically, here’s how strength training (another term for resistance training) works to improve diabetes. When you lift weights or do body weight exercises like push-ups, you are activating muscle tissue. Muscles uptake glucose from the blood. The more your muscle tissue is fueled by glucose, the less blood sugar you have remaining in your blood.
Don’t Like Cardio? No Problem, Just Lift
A Harvard study found that men who did 150 minutes of weight training per week had almost a 35% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, whether or not they also performed aerobic exercise. That’s great news if you don’t particularly enjoy running, spinning, and other types of cardiovascular fitness activities.
However, some experts suggest that a combination of aerobic activity and resistance training is more effective at reducing type 2 diabetes risk. But why not kill two birds with one stone? By performing several repetitions of full body exercises such as squats, deadlifts and clean and jerks, you can elevate your heart rate and give your muscles a workout at the same time.
Obviously, if you’ve never performed resistance training exercise, it may be difficult to get started on your own. And unfortunately, with the current pandemic, many community fitness centers are currently closed. And if you don’t have weights at home (which the pandemic has made difficult to acquire), what can you do? Luckily, the Internet is still open for business. There are many free videos you can access that instruct people on how to perform basic full-body exercises, with no weights needed. (Here’s one such video.)
Benefits of Resistance Training For Diabetes Control
In addition to managing blood glucose levels, strength training improves insulin resistance, lowers blood pressure, reduces cardiovascular disease risk, increases bone density, improves mood and motor function, and may stave off cognitive decline.
Monitor Blood Sugar While Strength Training
Exercise of any kind has the potential to cause hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Therefore, whether you take insulin or a blood-sugar-lowering drug like Metformin, it’s best to monitor your blood sugar levels immediately before exercising, during exercise, immediately after you’re done, and before going to bed. Low blood sugar, induced by exercise, can occur for up to several hours, which is why it’s important to use diabetes apps and continuous glucose monitors.
(Related: Metformin may contain a cancer-causing contaminant. If you take Metformin, ask your doctor if there’s a safe alternative drug.)