Manage Diabetes Naturally—Get Toned, Too—with Strength Training

Researchers find strong evidence that resistance training can help control risk factors for metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.

July 13, 2010

New study: Resistance training reduces diabetes risk factors and melts belly fat.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—With the U.S. Food and Drug Administration holding meetings on whether or not to ban the use of widely used diabetes drug Avandia, due to elevated risk of heart attacks and other harmful side effects, it's more important than ever to learn about all the options that help you manage diabetes. And while it's commonly advised that people with diabetes avoid refined sugars and exercise to help control the disease, a new study published in the journal Sports Medicine this month offers strong evidence that resistance training could also be a valuable part of any diabetes-beating plan.


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THE DETAILS: Austrian researchers looked at 13 high-quality trials investigating the relationship between resistance training and impaired glucose tolerance, a risk factor for type 2 diabetes. They also looked at studies involving metabolic syndrome, the name for a group of risk factors linked to overweight and obesity that increase your risk of having heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. In the analysis, researchers found that resistance training lowered systolic blood pressure by six points, and also significantly reduced body fat mass and lowered blood sugar readings. They also found good evidence that resistance training lowers dangerous belly fat, independent of dietary changes.

WHAT IT MEANS: Metabolic syndrome is a multifaceted issue, but at the heart of the problem is often excess fat around the midsection, which can lead to insulin resistance and other problems, including diabetes. As we age, we naturally experience a loss in muscle mass, which in turn slows down our fat-burning metabolism machine. Physical inactivity can do the same thing, and that, coupled with a diet high in saturated fats and empty calories, has created a type 2 diabetes crisis in this country, even in younger people. Resistance training is emerging as a solution to curbing risk factors associated with diabetes, stroke, and heart attacks. And unlike drugs, the side effects are just a little soreness the day after. But hey, it's a good kind of hurt.

Here's how to prevent or manage metabolic syndrome and diabetes naturally.

• Figure out if you're secretly at risk. Earlier this year at the American Society of Hypertension's 25th annual meeting, researchers presented several studies showing that many people get a clean bill of health at the doctor's office but are unknowingly living with prediabetes or prehypertension, two major risk factors for metabolic syndrome. If your resting blood pressure is more than 120/80 and your random finger-stick blood sugar is more than 140 mg/dL, those should raise a red flag.

According to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, a large waistline with excess fat in the abdominal area, higher than normal triglyderide levels, lower than normal HDL (good) cholesterol levels, along with high blood pressure and/or high fasting blood sugar (or levels that have resulted in your being put on medicine to control these problems) are risk factors for metabolic syndrome.

• Mix it up. More than 80 percent of women skip strength training when they workout, according to a survey by the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association. While cardio is important, too, you need to couple resistance training with cardio for ultimate metabolism-boosting benefits. Another benefit? People who pair aerobic exercise and resistance training eat less—517 fewer calories a day—than those who only choose cardio, according to a study published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine. The two work together, possibly to help break down food and stabilize blood sugar, which also helps you feel fuller longer. Prevention magazine reports that swapping aerobic exercise for weight training three times a week can help you lose up to 12.5 pounds a year.

• Band it. If you've never tried resistance training before, don't be intimidated. It doesn't mean you have to sign up for a gym and start bench-pressing. Resistance training comes in many forms, from lifting weights to using bands or even soup cans. For beginners, we really like this resistance band workout plan from Prevention magazine. The good news? A band only runs about $10, and you can do the workout almost anywhere!

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