Diabetes Health: Add Resistance Training to Your Workout

Learn the benefits of including resistance training to your exercise regimen, including lowering blood sugar levels.

You've been walking, swimming, or cycling to hit your goal of 30 minutes of aerobic exercise just about every day. That's fabulous! But do you schedule in any resistance training? If not, you'll want to read why two diabetes exercise experts think you should and how they suggest you get started.

What's resistance training?

Resistance training is any exercise that causes your muscles to contract against something. The effort makes the muscle stronger, says Sheri Colberg, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist and athlete who has lived with type 1 diabetes for 44 years. Colberg is the author of The 7 Step Diabetes Fitness Plan (Da Capo Press, 2005).

Adults -- at any age -- can benefit from resistance training. People older than 50 can benefit the most because of age-related muscle loss. Also, with more muscle mass, your body increases its ability to store the blood glucose that comes from the foods you eat. Regular resistance training can lower your blood glucose level.

What are common types of resistance training?

Exercises that incorporate resistance bands, dumbbells, weight machines, or even your own body weight are considered resistance training. Colberg suggests starting with inexpensive resistance bands found at discount stores such as Wal-Mart and Target, or even just household items such as bottles of water or cans of food. If you're ready to step it up, buy a set of dumbbells. A pair of 5-pound dumbbells costs around $10. Start with 2- to 3-pound dumbbells and work up to 5 pounds. Ten pounds is plenty for most people.

Does adding resistance training to cardio exercise help my diabetes?

"Studies show that it's the combination of aerobic exercise and resistance training that may be more beneficial in lowering A1C than aerobic training alone," says Carla Cox, Ph.D., RD, CDE, a diabetes educator and sports nutrition expert at the Western Montana Clinic in Missoula, Montana. This advice is echoed by the American Diabetes Association and the American College of Sports Nutrition for people with type 2 diabetes. Colberg says all people with diabetes should do a combination of aerobic and resistance training, including people with prediabetes.

How often should I do resistance training?

"Ideally two to three times a week to have the desired effect," Cox says. One session should include eight to 10 exercises, Colberg says, which can be completed in about 20 minutes.

Are there any everyday ways to build muscle?

Pushing the lawn mower, using the vacuum cleaner, or carrying bags of groceries or young children are examples of resistance training that can be incorporated into your daily life. Combine the two types of resistance training to get the full dose you need. "Once you regularly work resistance training into your schedule, you'll really miss it if it's not part of your week," Cox says.


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