Strength Training and Diabetes

How to Prevent and Manage Diabetes

Diabetes in Australia

280 Australians develop diabetes every day and it is anticipated that 3.3 million Australians will have diabetes by 2031 (Vos. et al 2004)

Diabetes is a disease of no insulin production (Type 1) or resistance to insulin (Type 2). This means that when sugar enters the blood stream, there is no insulin response, which would normally act to reduce the blood sugar levels.  Strength training can be beneficial as it enhances insulin sensitivity and increases lean muscle mass to help control blood sugar levels. 

Recent Research

Until recently strength training has just been a side issue in medical research with scientists tending to focus on endurance training as it was seen as particularly beneficial to health.  The same applied to earlier research into Type 2 diabetes mellitus: cardiovascular training and dietary changes were regarded as the ultimate in the treatment of so-called late-onset diabetes.

However, in recent years an increasing number of researchers have turned their attention to muscle training and have recognised it's value as a therapy.  We now know that clients with diabetes can exert a positive influence on muscle metabolism, energy balance and bodyweight through sport, dietary changes, physical fitness and trained muscles.  A more active lifestyle, particularly in the early stages of the disease, can have far-reaching effects and diabetics can reduce the impact of the disease and delay or even avoid medication.

What's new is that recent studies have shown that the benefits of strength training are almost equal to those of endurance training.  Muscle training also reduces insulin resistance, improves glycemic metabolism and body composition.  A primary indicator in determining the benefits of this type of therapy is long-term blood sugar level - known as HbA1c.  Strength training can reduce HbA1c by an amount equal to that achieved by endurance training.  The most effective therapy for Type 2 diabetes mellitus is a combination of cardiovascular and muscle training.  The Diabetes Associations in both Germany and the United States recommend strength training.  Clients with diabetes should strengthen major muscle groups three times a week.  The ideal interval between sessions is every other day as the one-off effect on insulin resistance from training is limited to 48 hours.  The reward for this effort can be found in blood sugar levels: the higher the level of exertion, the greater the effect on the metabolism.  For that reason, intensity should, wherever possible be moderate to high.  

How To Manage Diabetes

As diabetes is a condition that will likely remain with you for your lifetime, we recommend that strength training forms a part of the ongoing management of your condition.

The important aspects of your training program for a diagnosis of diabetes are to remain consistent with training over the long-term, meaning over a 6-12 month period. To focus on large muscle groups as this will enhance hormonal response to build lean body mass and increase metabolism. Address any secondary condition/injuries that may inhibit training and aim for a higher frequency of training, three times per week initially then two times per week when into maintenance phase.

Who Can Help

Accredited Exercise Physiologists provide exercise and lifestyle programs for the prevention and continual management of chronic diseases such as diabetes. If you have pre-diabetes indicators, an Exercise Physiologist has the expertise to create a plan to reduce or delay the onset on diabetes. Additional benefits a qualified Exercise Physiologist can provide include improvement in heart health, rehabilitation follow a cardiac arrest, overcoming persistent and severe pain, increase recovery following cancer treatment and provide a general improvement in general health and wellbeing. 

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