Aerobic exercise has been the most promoted form of exercise to manage type 2 diabetes, but adding strength training to your workout is more important. We were one of the first to prove and publish the fact that resistance training could reverse the symptoms of type 2 diabetes (Krisan, et al. J. Appl. Physiol. 96:1691-1700, 2004), since then numerous studies have reinforced our findings.
Strengthening your muscles is an important part of staying healthy, when you have type 2 diabetes it provides added benefits. When you exercise with weights or other forms of resistance, it can help control blood sugar levels. Your body uses glucose from your bloodstream to power the working muscles, which can help clear out excess sugar from your system.
Resistance training allows you to work all muscles in the body, instead of just primarily lower body with aerobic conditioning, therefore we see a greater change in glucose levels. Your muscles are the largest utilizer of glucose, more muscle activity equals more glucose utilization and less extra blood sugar.
Strong muscles also store glucose more effectively, and that helps regulate blood sugar even when you’re at rest. Strength training also promotes weight loss — an important goal for many with type 2 diabetes — because the more muscles you have, the more calories you burn.
If you’ve never done strength training, start slow and resist overdoing it. Consistency and steady progression is the key to change. For example, with exercises involving handheld weights, choose a weight that you will be able to lift for one set of 8 to 10 reps. Work toward completing two to three sets of 15 reps each before moving on to higher weights. Always rest muscles at least one day between workouts. Your body rebuilds when it recovers from the exercise, not while you are actually performing the exercise.
You can strength-train with free weights, resistance bands, and exercises that use your own body weight as resistance. At the gym, try starting with weight machines, which are often better for beginners. We recommend working with a qualified personal trainer to find the best exercises for you.
Check with your doctor before starting a strength training program. As with any exercise, strength training can lower your blood sugar level, so you should check your blood sugar before and after exercising to see what kind of effect the activity has on your body. If your blood sugar dips too low, you may want to have a snack before or during your routine. It may also be a good idea to talk to your doctor about changing your medications to allow for your increased physical activity.
Above all, be smart about your new exercise routine to keep it safe and enjoyable. The best thing to do is start slow, gradually increase the intensity and weight to help you reach your goals.
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