Resistance Training Exercise for Diabetes: A Beginner's Guide
Exercise • • minute to read • By INFS, INFS Faculty
Are you one of the millions of people living with type 2 diabetes? If so, you’ve probably been told that increasing your physical activity and exercise can help manage your condition. But did you know that resistance training can have a significant impact on your blood glucose levels?
In this article, we’ll explore how resistance training can benefit diabetes patients, how to get started with a resistance training program, and how to incorporate resistance training into an overall exercise plan. By the end, you’ll have the tools you need to manage your diabetes with confidence and ease.
What Is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a chronic condition characterized by high blood glucose levels. It occurs when the body is unable to produce or use insulin effectively. Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood glucose levels, and when it’s not working properly, glucose can’t enter the body’s cells to be used for energy. This leads to a buildup of glucose in the bloodstream, which can cause a range of health problems if left unmanaged.
What Is Type 1 Diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes is a condition in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. This leads to a lack of insulin in the body, which causes glucose to build up in the bloodstream and can lead to a range of health problems if left unmanaged. Type 1 diabetes usually develops in childhood or adolescence, although it can occur at any age. The exact cause of type 1 diabetes is unknown, but it is thought to be related to genetic and environmental factors. Unlike type 2 diabetes, it is not linked to lifestyle factors such as obesity or lack of physical activity.
What Is Type 2 Diabetes?
Type 2 diabetes is a condition in which the body becomes resistant to insulin or doesn’t produce enough insulin to regulate blood glucose levels effectively. This leads to a buildup of glucose in the bloodstream, which can cause a range of health problems if left unmanaged. Type 2 diabetes is often linked to lifestyle factors such as obesity, lack of physical activity, and poor dietary choices, although genetic factors can also play a role. It is the most common form of diabetes, accounting for around 90% of cases.
Exercise for Diabetes: What You Need to Know
For people with type 2 diabetes, the body becomes resistant to insulin, which makes it difficult for cells to take up circulating glucose. Exercise (both aerobic and resistance) can help mimic the effects of insulin and transport blood glucose from the bloodstream into muscle cells.
But not all exercise is created equal. While any physical activity can have a positive impact on blood glucose levels, resistance training specifically has been shown to have significant benefits for diabetes patients.
The Benefits of Resistance Training for Diabetes
Resistance training involves using weights or resistance bands to create resistance against the muscles. This type of exercise has several benefits for diabetes patients:
- Improved blood glucose control: Resistance training can help lower blood glucose levels by mimicking the effects of insulin and assisting with the transport of blood glucose from the bloodstream into muscle cells. Additionally, resistance training can create an energy deficit, leading to fat loss and smoother blood glucose disposal.
- Increased muscle mass: Resistance training can help build and retain muscle mass, which can help with glucose disposal and calorie burning. This is especially important for diabetes patients, as reduced muscle mass and increasing fat tissue can lead to higher blood glucose levels.
- Improved insulin sensitivity: Resistance training can improve insulin sensitivity, making cells more responsive to insulin and leading to better blood glucose control.
- Lowered medication dependence: Studies have shown that resistance training can lead to reduced medication dependence in diabetes patients. In one study, 72% of participants were able to reduce their diabetes medication with reduced blood glucose levels after resistance training.
Getting Started with Resistance Training
If you’re new to resistance training, it can be challenging to know where to start. Here are some tips to help you get started:
Step 1: Consult with Your Doctor
Before beginning any new exercise program, it’s essential to consult with your doctor to ensure it’s safe for you to do so. Your doctor can help you determine the right intensity and frequency of exercise based on your individual needs and medical history.
Step 2: Choose Your Equipment
Resistance training can be done with weights, resistance bands, or bodyweight exercises. Choose equipment that is comfortable and easy to use for you. A good place to start is with dumbbells, which are easy to find and come in various weights.
Step 3: Start with Basic Exercises
It’s essential to start with basic exercises if you’re new to resistance training. Some examples of beginner-friendly exercises include:
- Bicep curls
- Tricep extensions
- Chest press
- Leg press
- Shoulder press
Step 4: Incorporate Resistance Training into Your Routine
Incorporating resistance training into your overall exercise routine is essential for reaping the benefits. Aim for at least two days of resistance training per week, with 8-10 exercises in each session involving larger muscle groups. As you progress, you can increase the frequency, volume, and intensity of your workouts.
Other Factors That Help Manage Diabetes
In addition to exercise, nutrition and other lifestyle factors can play an essential role in managing type 2 diabetes. Here are some tips to help manage the condition:
- Follow a balanced, healthy diet: Eating a balanced diet that is rich in fiber, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables can help manage blood glucose levels. Foods that are high in sugar, saturated fats, and processed carbohydrates should be limited.
- Watch portion sizes: Controlling portion sizes can help manage blood glucose levels and prevent overeating. It’s important to pay attention to serving sizes and to avoid large meals.
- Stay hydrated: Drinking plenty of water can help prevent dehydration, which is a common problem for people with diabetes. It can also help control blood glucose levels.
- Get enough sleep: Getting enough sleep is essential for managing diabetes. Sleep deprivation can cause insulin resistance and make it harder to manage blood glucose levels.
- Manage stress: Stress can cause blood glucose levels to rise, so it’s important to find ways to manage stress, such as meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises.
- Take medications as prescribed: If medications are prescribed to manage diabetes, it’s essential to take them as directed by your doctor. Skipping doses or not taking medications as prescribed can lead to uncontrolled blood glucose levels.
By combining exercise with a healthy lifestyle, including good nutrition, hydration, sleep, stress management, and medication adherence, people with type 2 diabetes can manage their condition effectively and prevent complications.
- Can resistance training cause hypoglycemia in diabetes patients?
Resistance training can cause hypoglycemia (low blood glucose levels) in some diabetes patients, especially if they are taking certain diabetes medications. It’s important to monitor blood glucose levels carefully and speak with your doctor about adjusting medications or insulin dosages as needed.
- Can resistance training worsen diabetic neuropathy?
In some cases, resistance training can worsen diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage caused by diabetes). It’s important to start with low-intensity exercises and gradually increase the intensity and duration of workouts to avoid exacerbating neuropathy symptoms.
- How does resistance training compare to other types of exercise for diabetes management?
Both resistance training and aerobic exercise have been shown to have benefits for diabetes management. However, resistance training has been shown to have unique benefits for glucose disposal, muscle mass retention, and insulin sensitivity.
- How can I make resistance training a regular part of my routine?
It can be challenging to make exercise a regular part of your routine, but there are several strategies you can try, such as scheduling workouts at the same time each week, finding a workout buddy for accountability, or incorporating resistance training into other daily activities, such as gardening or housework.
- Can I do resistance training at home without equipment?
Yes, there are several resistance training exercises that can be done without equipment, such as push-ups, squats, lunges, and planks. You can also use everyday household items, such as water bottles or cans, as makeshift weights.
- Castaneda, C. et al. (2002) ‘A randomized controlled trial of resistance exercise training to improve glycemic control in older adults with type 2 diabetes.’, Diabetes care, 25(12), pp. 2335–2341. doi: 10.2337/diacare.25.12.2335.
- Cauza, E. et al. (2005) ‘The relative benefits of endurance and strength training on the metabolic factors and muscle function of people with type 2 diabetes mellitus’, Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 86(8), pp. 1527–1533. doi: 10.1016/j.apmr.2005.01.007.
- Dunstan, D. W. et al. (1998) ‘Effects of a short-term circuit weight training program on glycaemic control in NIDDM’, Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice, 40(1), pp. 53–61. doi: 10.1016/S0168-8227(98)00027-8.
- Eves, N. D. and Plotnikoff, R. C. (2006) ‘Resistance training and type 2 diabetes: Considerations for implementation at the population level’, Diabetes Care. American Diabetes Association, pp. 1933–1941. doi: 10.2337/dc05-1981.
- Ishii, T. et al. (1998) ‘Resistance training improves insulin sensitivity in NIDDM subjects without altering maximal oxygen uptake’, Diabetes Care, 21(8), pp. 1353–1355. doi: 10.2337/diacare.21.8.1353.
- Ryan, D. H. and Yockey, S. R. (2017) ‘Weight Loss and Improvement in Comorbidity: Differences at 5%, 10%, 15%, and Over’, Current Obesity Reports, 6(2), pp. 187–194. doi: 10.1007/s13679-017-0262-y.
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