The number of people with type 2 diabetes continues to grow at an alarming rate. The reason? For one, the population is aging and the risk of type 2 diabetes goes up with age. Secondly, the incidence of obesity continues to rise. Obesity is another major risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Being sedentary also puts people at risk for this chronic disease and only about one in four people get the recommended amount of exercise, at least 30 minutes most days of the week.
Strength Training and Risk for Type 2 Diabetes
Most people think aerobic exercise is the form of exercise that reduces type 2 diabetes risk. But what about strength training? If you want to lower your risk of this common disease, bring on the weights. A new study published in the journal PLOS Medicine shows strength training and muscle conditioning can substantially lower the risk for type 2 diabetes. Researchers followed almost 100,000 healthy middle-aged and older women for 8 years to see if they developed type 2 diabetes. This was part of a large study called the Nurses’ Health Study.
When they looked at the time these women spent doing various types of exercise each week, they made some interesting observations. As expected, women that did 150 minutes of aerobic exercise weekly had a lower risk for type 2 diabetes – but here’s the kicker. Women that did at least 60 minutes of strength training and lower intensity muscle conditioning exercises like toning and yoga workouts also had a lower risk for type 2 diabetes even if they did little aerobic activity.
The women that enjoyed the greatest risk reduction were those that did BOTH aerobic exercise and strength training. In fact, women that did both were only a third as likely to develop type 2 diabetes. Resistance workouts were linked with a lower risk even in women that didn’t get the recommended amount of aerobic exercise.
How Might Strength Training Lower Diabetes Risk?
Strength training leads to changes in body composition that favor better blood sugar control. Regular strength training not only reduces body fat – it increases lean body mass. Muscles actively take up glucose during exercise even in the absence of insulin. When you strength train, you have more available muscle to clear glucose from your bloodstream. Both aerobic exercise and strength training seem to offer protection against type 2 diabetes.
Exercise and Risk for Type 2 Diabetes
Exercise has other benefits if you’re at risk for type 2 diabetes – or if you already have it. It helps to lower blood pressure and has favorable effects on blood lipids, especially triglycerides. People with type 2 diabetes are at risk for a number of complications, especially heart disease. Exercise reduces risk factors for heart disease, the most common cause of death in people with type 2 diabetes and the general population as well.
The Bottom Line?
Aerobic exercise has benefits when it comes to lowering your risk for type 2 diabetes but strength training does too. Not to mention strength training helps to preserve lean body mass and bone density. If you’re concerned about type 2 diabetes because it runs in your family, regular aerobic and resistance exercise can significantly lower your risk. There are lots of reasons to strength train – and reducing your risk for type 2 diabetes is one of them. Keep doing aerobic workouts – but make strength training a priority too.
Science Daily. “Muscle-Strengthening, Conditioning in Women Associated with Reduced Risk of Diabetes”
PLOS Medicine. “Muscle-Strengthening and Conditioning Activities and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes: A Prospective Study in Two Cohorts of US Women”
Medscape Family Medicine. “Resistance Training Benefits Type 2 Diabetics”
Diabetes Care January 2004 vol. 27 no. suppl 1 s58-s62.
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