This post was written by Kate Creager, MCHES, lifestyle change specialist, Diabetes Care Services, Parkview Health.
Exercise is a critical component of diabetes management and controlling your blood sugar, but it can be challenging to know where to start. Your first instinct might be to choose cardiovascular exercises. Many assume running is the best option for weight loss or blood sugar management. However, it’s important to incorporate strength training into your routine, not just for your blood glucose but also for bone strength, muscle strength, and overall health.
Not just for bodybuilders
People, especially women, often steer clear of strength training because they don’t want to get too muscular. However, it takes a lot of strength training, heavy weights and a specific diet to get that bulky bodybuilder physique.
Believe it or not, there are several strength training exercises you can do to improve your health without bulking up. Some options can include free weight exercises, weight-only exercises, muscular strength exercises (heavier weights, lower repetitions) and/or muscular endurance classes (lower weights, higher repetitions).
The benefits of strength training
There are numerous benefits of strength training for patients with prediabetes or diabetes. We know that weekly strength training can:
- Reduce body fat
- Increase muscle mass and strength
- Increase bone strength and density
- Combat insulin resistance
- Decrease high blood sugar levels
And, while the research on strength training and blood glucose is relatively new, especially in comparison to cardiovascular exercise, there are some recent promising studies. For example, an Iowa State University study suggests that strength training may facilitate the management and prevention of Type 2 diabetes. A Cleveland Clinic study found that individuals who engaged in moderate strength training and had greater muscle mass reduced their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by nearly one-third.
Strength training and your insulin levels
Think of glucose as an energy source similar to charging your cellphone. Once it’s fully charged, it stops. It can’t go past 100%. The same is true for your body. If you overeat glucose or calories in a day, your body doesn’t know what to do with the excess and stops using it. This means your body ends up storing the calories for later, or your insulin spikes to balance out the glucose levels, which could result in the development of insulin resistance over time. Now, let’s think about a hybrid car. The electric engine represents your glucose, and the gasoline used as an alternate power source when the vehicle runs out of electricity is your body fat. Once your body burns or expends all your glucose, it begins to break down fat for energy. Utilizing this sugar helps prevent excess in our bloodstream, thus reducing the amount of insulin required to balance it out.
How much and how often
Any amount of exercise is better than no exercise at all, but it’s best to have a balance of strength training exercises, cardiovascular exercises, balance and stretching. Engaging in 2-4 days a week of strength training is best for obtaining optimal results. Also, you don’t have to train for long periods or extended intervals. Strength training sessions can vary based on your fitness level and last anywhere from 5-60 minutes.
Before starting any exercise routine, be sure to consult your primary care provider. Once you get the green light from your physician, you start by enrolling in a fitness class at a local gym, meeting with a personal trainer or downloading an app and beginning your fitness journey at home.
As you begin your exercise routine, don’t forget to keep these healthful tips in mind:
- Stay hydrated: It can be easy to forget but drinking plenty of water is crucial when exercising to prevent dehydration and keep your blood sugars within a normal range.
- Baby steps: Start small with low weights and lower repetitions, then build up from that point.
- Favor your feet: Remember to wear clean, dry socks when exercising, along with shoes that are the correct size. Also, don’t forget to do daily foot checks and try to avoid getting any sores on your feet.
- Get a grasp on your glucose: Be sure to check your blood sugars before and after exercise to see how your body reacts to different activities.
- Sensible snacking: It’s important to snack 1-2 hours prior to working out so you can better control your blood sugar while staying active.
- Know your limits: If you feel lightheaded, faint or dizzy, stop immediately.
- Make the most of your surroundings: You don’t have to go to the gym. You can do home workouts and exercises with just your body weight. Squats, lunges, calf raises, push-ups and planks are all great choices and don’t require any equipment.
- Stay accountable: Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Find a registered dietitian, certified personal trainer, wellness coach or behavior change specialist for additional support as you embark on your fitness journey.
For additional questions or concerns about managing diabetes, please call Parkview Diabetes Care Services at 260-373-4280 to speak with a diabetes educator, registered dietitian or behavior change specialist.