When someone suggests you do strength training, you may feel intimidated, especially if it calls to mind ripped bodybuilders in CrossFit gyms or a young Arnold Schwarzenegger pumping iron. But strength training is actually accessible to people of all ages. Even better, it can help manage type 2 diabetes or lower the risk of developing it. Type 2 diabetes hampers the body's ability to process glucose and use insulin.
This can chronically disrupt blood sugar levels and lead to complications like heart disease and nerve damage. Strength training counteracts these effects by causing muscles to use glucose for power, which lowers blood sugar. Strength training also improves the body's sensitivity to insulin. In people with prediabetes, for example, muscle building workouts increased insulin sensitivity by 51% to 85%, according to a National Institutes of Health study.
For managing diabetes, strength training works best when paired with aerobic exercise like biking or walking, says the American Diabetes Association. The group recommends strength training at least twice a week and aerobic activity five days a week.
Ready, Set, Lift!
People come to weight training with different goals. They may want to boost functional strength, rehabilitate an injury, build big muscles or increase endurance for playing sports. For overall health, focusing on functional fitness is a great start. Functional fitness programs can improve posture, provide support for joints, ward off frailty from age-related muscle loss, and prevent injuries caused by everyday activities.
The main thing beginners need to remember is to start slow. If you're at the gym, don't stress about mastering the fancy weight machines. Instead, warm up muscles by walking on the treadmill or doing dynamic stretches, then move on to basic bodyweight exercises like squats, lunges and pushups.
When you're ready to try weight lifting, start with a weight light enough to let you do 10 to 15 reps before you become fatigued. In weight lifting jargon, a rep (or repetition) is one completed motion, such as a single bicep curl. If you do 10 reps without stopping, that's one set. Congratulations! Now, take a short rest before starting another set or a different exercise. Over time, you can increase the weight, reps or number of sets, but not all at once!
If you're wondering what makes a good strength-training program, the simple answer is variety. It's wise to do exercises that work different muscle groups' legs, arms, back, shoulders, chest and abs. Guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourage working out for 20 to 30 minutes. If that feels like too much, work up to it as you're able.
Remember to always prioritize good form. If you're unsure how your form measures up, ask for help from a trainer or download a phone app with examples of exercises. Even better, take a class to learn how to customize your routine.
If the gym is not your scene, you can do strength training at home using unopened food cans or full water bottles as weights. You can also use kettlebells, fitness bands or your own body weight. It doesn't matter where you start exercising, the important thing is to start'and keep going.
Exercise Safely with Diabetes With Diabetes
Before pumping iron like Ah-nald, be sure to:
- Get your doctor's approval before beginning a new routine. Ask if there's a best time of day to exercise.
- Check your blood sugar often. When starting a new routine, you may need to check it before, during and after exercise to understand how your body is responding and whether you need to modify your medication or diet to keep blood sugar at safe levels.
- Keep a fast-acting carbohydrate snack or drink with you in case you experience low blood sugar.
- Stay hydrated before and during physical activity.
- Rest. Your muscles need recovery time. Sleep well and take a day off between.