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Diabetes and Strength Training

By Jennifer Hicks

Updated July 29, 2008

(LifeWire) - For people with diabetes, strength training or weight training offers a host of benefits. Strength training involves a series of movements that focus on a particular muscle group, with the goal of improving the abilities of those muscles.

How Does Strength Training Work for People With Diabetes?

Strength training exercises make muscles work harder than usual in resistance to something else, such as hand-held weights, resistance bands or even the body's own weight against gravity.

Strength training builds muscles by first damaging the muscle fibers. This happens as the muscles get tired and begin to struggle with repetition. The body then makes new proteins to help repair the muscle. In order for this repair to happen, though, the exercised muscle group needs a day of rest. As the cycle of exercise and rest continues, the new proteins make the muscle stronger.

Strength training can:
  • Increase the active movement of glucose in to the muscles.
  • Help the body store glucose as glycogen, aiding available energy.
  • Reduce insulin resistance, making it easier to use insulin more effectively.
  • Increase metabolism, even after the exercise. This, in turn, helps burn more calories.
  • Decrease total fat and intra-abdominal fat.
  • Help replace muscle mass that has been lost over time.
The American Diabetes Association and the American College of Sports Medicine recommend that strength training be done at least two times per week using light weights and a high number of repetitions.

Is Strength Training Appropriate for All People With Diabetes?

Because diabetes is often accompanied by other health conditions, it's very important to talk with a health care provider before beginning a strength-training regimen. Strength training is not appropriate for people who have any of the following conditions: unstable angina; uncontrolled high blood pressure; cardiomyopathy that has thickened the heart muscle; abnormal heart rhythms that aren't controlled; or certain stages of retinopathy.

Is it Better to Train at Home or in a Gym?

People who have been cleared to try strength training might find it easier to begin at a gym, where the staff can provide an introduction to the weight machines. Machines are often initially recommended because they help keep the body stable and guide it through the correct movements for each muscle group. After the motions and exercises are familiar, training at home is possible with a weight machine or something simpler (and less expensive), such as hand weights or resistance bands. Resistance bands are quite inexpensive and can be used in many different ways. They come in strengths varying from quite minimal resistance to those that really work even the most toned muscles.

Ask some questions before joining a gym: Is the staff certified by the American College of Sports Medicine? Do they have experience in working with clients who have diabetes? Is a trial membership available?

What Are Some Sources for More Information?

The best way to get more information about strength training is to ask a health-care provider to recommend a good program. Examples of what a program might include are available from:
  • The Wellness Letter, which has a 20-minute at-home workout that uses hand weights and concentrates on the major muscle groups, such as the shoulders, the upper back and abdominals.
  • The Department of Kinesiology and Health at Georgia State University, which offers several strength-training exercises as well as photos showing how the movements are done.
  • The Centers for Disease Control, which offers suggestions for a strength-training workout for older adults. They also include warm-up and cool-down exercises, which should be included in every exercise routine.
People who are new to strength training or the use of weights might consider working with a personal trainer or physical therapist at first to learn the basic movements and ensure they're being done correctly.
LifeWire, a part of The New York Times Company, provides original and syndicated online lifestyle content. Jennifer Hicks has written and published more than 600 articles, primarily in the fields of health care and medicine. She is also the CEO of WordsWork Consulting, Inc., a consulting firm in the fields of health literacy and best Web practices. A former professor at Northeastern University in Boston, Jennifer has a family member who has lived with type 1 diabetes for 20 years.
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