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Strength training has many payoffs for type-2 diabetics

By Cindy Boggs

Dear Cindy,

I am a type-2 diabetic and I've recently seen where diabetics are being encouraged to take up weightlifting to overcome "insulin resistance." What would be a good beginning for someone who has never lifted any kind of weights before, especially if they are out of shape and just want to develop a new routine to help them get more active? I also wish to do some swimming as it is a nonimpact activity for the joints. - Christine

Dear Christine,

As a person who advocates physical activity day in and day out, I was elated to read the research surrounding the benefits of strength training for diabetics. We have long recommended aerobic exercise in the management of type-2 diabetes because it can improve insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance. Now we know that strength training or resistance training is similarly efficacious at improving insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance when compared to aerobic training.

Strength training will also help you control your weight, strengthen your bones, increase lean muscle mass, increase metabolism and burn calories, decrease risk of injury, increase day-to-day function and lower your risk for heart disease.

This is great news because many people with type-2 diabetes have already exhausted diet and aerobic exercise as their means of managing the disease through lifestyle efforts. Also, we know the side effects of diabetes can compromise a person's ability to perform aerobic activity. Nearly a quarter of people with type-2 diabetes will be limited by one or more of these problems: neuropathy (nerve damage to legs and feet); peripheral vascular disease (poor blood flow in arms and legs); and eye or vision problems.

For these reasons, the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Diabetes Association recommend strength training to those with type-2 diabetes. Strength training offers an alternative approach to physical activity that is practical and can be a viable solution to those unable to expend energy through traditional aerobic exercise.

The American Diabetes Association recommends people with type-2 diabetes start a strength training program with a moderate schedule - one set of 10 to 15 repetitions with weights up to three times a week. Once you become accustomed to the moderate schedule, you gradually progress to three sets of 10 to 15 repetitions with weights up to three times a week.

If you are new to lifting weights, you should know that form and technique are extremely important for safety reasons and also to ensure effective results. Ignoring guidelines and lifting haphazardly will only undermine your efforts. For this reason, you may want to consult a personal trainer or fitness professional for specific guidance based on your strengths and weaknesses. They can design a program that will be right for you.

In the beginning, however, these are safety guidelines to follow for your resistance-training program. Please remember before starting any new exercise regimen, including strength training, it is important to consult with your diabetes health-care provider.

  • Begin with a gentle body warm-up for 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Strength-train two times a week on nonconsecutive days.
  • Do 8 to 10 different exercises that target your major muscle groups.
  • Perform 10 to 15 repetitions (one set).
  • Allow 60-second to two-minute rests between exercises.
  • Your intensity should be about 40 percent to 60 percent of your maximum heart rate.
  • Maintain good posture while lifting.
  • Lift slowly and in control.
  • Progress gradually.
  • Conclude with a cool-down and stretch.
  • Eat one to two hours prior to exercise.
  • Bring a snack to eat if necessary during the workout.
  • Stay hydrated with water.
  • Christine, you are certainly taking a step in the right direction. In a six-month study in 2002, researchers found that those who ate a healthy diet and followed a weight-training program had a three times greater decrease in average blood sugar levels than those who simply dieted. In addition, the exercisers lost moderate amounts of body fat. Muscles are a major clearance site for circulating blood sugar, so it is important for diabetics to build and maintain lean muscle mass. Furthermore, weight training promotes heart health, which is a major benefit because type-2 diabetes can double or quadruple the risk of heart disease.

    Incorporating strength training with swimming is an ideal combination and will produce even greater results than either one alone. Exercising in water provides the body with joint support and buoyancy so that you can condition your heart and lungs without painful stress on your feet and legs. Alternating these two modes of physical activity is an excellent way for you to stay active for life.

    Cindy Boggs, fitness consultant, author and Activate America director, has been an ACE-certified coordinator/instructor since 1989. Send your questions about fitness, training or health to YMCA of Kanawha Valley, 100 YMCA Drive, Charleston, WV 25311, or e-mail cindysays@aol.com. Look for Cindy's fitness advice book, "CindySays ... You Can Find Health in Your Hectic World," on her Web site, www.cindysays.com, or contact the YMCA at 340-3527.


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