Resistance training has numerous health benefits. It increases lean body mass and builds bone density. Men and women both lose muscle as they age. This puts older people at risk for balance problems and falls and decreases their ability to do the things they enjoy. Plus, the decline in muscle mass that occurs with age is a major risk factor for disability. Resistance training isn’t just important for maintaining bone and muscle mass, it has other benefits that are less apparent. It has the power to positively impact hormones that play a role in metabolic health.
Resistance Training and Metabolic Health
With an epidemic of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome sweeping the country, anything you can do to improve your metabolic health and reduce insulin resistance is a smart move for your health.
Insulin resistance is a condition where your cells become “numb” to the effects of insulin. As a result, your pancreas has to pump out more and more of this anabolic, fat-storing hormone to get glucose into cells. Why is this bad? It increases your risk for serious health problems including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension. Insulin resistance is also linked with deep belly fat called visceral fat, the worst kind for your health.
Does Resistance Training Improve Insulin Sensitivity?
A recent study published in Diabetes Care and discussed on Medscape showed that resistance training reduced insulin resistance, making cells more sensitive to insulin, and improved metabolic health in older adults with type 2 diabetes even without dieting or weight loss.
Unfortunately, most doctors recommend aerobic exercise for people with type 2 diabetes or insulin resistance when resistance training offers unique benefits you can’t get from aerobic training alone, namely an increase in lean body mass. Resistance training has a positive impact on insulin sensitivity, helping to restore the ability of your cells to respond to insulin so your pancreas doesn’t have to keep pumping out more of it.
Resistance Training and Aerobic Exercise Both Have an Impact on Insulin Sensitivity
Aerobic exercise also improves insulin sensitivity, as long as it’s of a certain intensity. Taking a leisurely walk through the park won’t have the same impact as a high-intensity interval workout. As researchers in this new study point out, resistance training and aerobic exercise have a synergistic effect. Doing both will do the most to improve insulin resistance and maximize metabolic health.
Before assuming you have to jog on a treadmill for an hour for aerobic benefits, consider this. You can get them doing circuit workouts, especially ones that focus on the large muscles in the lower body, combining that with a few high-intensity interval aerobic workouts. Using more resistance rather than lifting lighter weights endurance-style also works in your favor from a metabolic standpoint.
Resistance Training Offers Benefits Even When Weight Loss Fails
A study published in the Journal of Clinical Hypertension further shows the importance of resistance training for metabolic health. This study found that even when individuals lose weight and regain a portion of it, regaining weight didn’t negatively impact their insulin sensitivity as long as they did regular resistance training. The benefits of resistance training for metabolic health seem to be independent of body weight. Even if you don’t lose a pound, you can improve your metabolic health by lifting or using resistance bands.
How to Get the Benefits
How can you improve your own metabolic health? Do resistance training, of course, along with cardio. Lifting heavier weights offers greater benefits than using lighter ones that aren’t challenging enough to build lean body mass. Emphasizing large muscle groups and doing compound exercises that work multiple muscle groups will also improve the metabolic benefits of your workout.
Here’s one approach. Alternate resistance training using heavy weights with circuit workouts using lighter weights for added metabolic benefits. Throw in a few sessions of high-intensity aerobic interval training to get the additional benefits that aerobic exercise offers. Keep challenging your body in new ways to keep your training fun and effective. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to lift heavy. That’s how a better body is built and how you maximize the health benefits.
J Clin Hypertens (Greenwich). 2010 Jan;12(1):64-72. doi: 10.1111/j.1751-7176.2009.00209.x.
Exp Clin Endocrinol Diabetes. 2001;109 Suppl 2:S135-48.
Medscape.com. “Resistance Training Benefits Type 2 Diabetics”
Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2006 Jul;38(7):1208-15.
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