Diabetes has by now become a global epidemic, afflicting 9% of the population over the age of 18, and its occurrence among children and teenagers is skyrocketing as well. According to WHO estimates, diabetes will become the 7th leading cause of death by 2030, which is a serious reason for concern, considering that diabetes type 2 is closely linked to lifestyle choices and is therefore highly preventable. If not timely remedied, diabetes can evolve into serious health problems, including damage to kidneys, the nervous system and blood vessels.
In cases of diabetes type 1, which is commonly diagnosed among children and young adults with deficient insulin production, strength exercises can contribute to better condition management. With diabetes type 2, regular workouts can help regulate high blood sugar levels and restore hormonal balance. If you are struggling with hyperglycaemia or insulin resistance, strength trainings may help keep glucose level in check, and here is how.
Strength training and diabetes type 1
Training alone cannot cure diabetes type 1, but regular exercises will significantly improve your control over the condition and help minimize the risk of cardiac problems, bone loss and organ damage. For people with diabetes type 1, moderate-intensity exercises can increase insulin sensitivity, lower blood pressure, lower blood glucose levels, promote carbohydrate breakdown and weight loss, and prevent long-term complications.
Strength training and diabetes type 2
Regular exercises help maintain optimal blood sugar levels, increase carbohydrate expenditure, help shed fat and build muscle mass. Combined with a healthy dietary regime, strength training will significantly contribute to the prevention and management of diabetes type 2. By increasing insulin sensitivity and promoting glucose usage in muscle cells, 1 hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity a day can improve insulin resistance by as many as 25%, which makes strength training the best ally to both improved health and fitness for people afflicted with diabetes type 2.
Strength training, yes, but which kind?
There are several types of strength exercises that can help you stay on top of your fitness as a diabetes patient.
• Bodyweight training, such as push-ups, squats, and pull-ups, will help you build strong and lean muscles and healthy bones, and they can be performed anywhere and anytime with minimal or no equipment.
• Weight lifting boosts muscle mass and bone density, aids weight loss, and reduces blood sugar levels. When taking up lifting as a regular workout, warm up properly before each lifting session and respect your limits to prevent injury.
• Tabata combines rounds of 20-second high-intensity workouts followed by 10 seconds of rest, thus promoting overall cardiovascular fitness. As it can be used in running, rowing, swimming, bodyweight and weight trainings, tabata is perfect for fans of versatile and dynamic workouts.
• Circuit training, including lunges, sit-ups, push-ups, and lateral hops, embodies the main benefits of strength training and cardio. Since it can be done both in the gym and at home, circuit training is ideal for diabetes patients who have a hard time fitting gym time into their busy agenda.
Optimizing trainings for individual conditions
If you are new to strength training, it would be a good idea to first consult your physician about workout types and frequency, with regard to your physical condition. For optimal performance and results, consider hiring a personal trainer who will devise a training program in line with your overall health and fitness status and ensure you perform your exercises properly.
• As a general rule, people afflicted with diabetes should incorporate at least 20-30 minutes of strength training two or three times a week to experience full benefits on their fitness and health.
• Before a workout, warm up well to prevent injury, and stretch and cool down afterwards, thus making your body shift to lower activity intensity gradually.
• During the training, perform workouts targeting different muscle sets to maximize their effects and tone the entire body, or design a rotating program that incorporates 6-15 reps for each exercise to keep the workout dynamic and engaging.
• Your diet should also be adjusted to fuel the body for increased physical intensity. For optimal performance and recovery, up your protein intake and eat complex carbs before training, so that your muscles have quality fuel to cope with the strain.
• Hydration is also important: drink lots of water or unsweetened beverages during the entire day, drinking a minimum of 1l per 25kg of body weight, to keep your muscle fibers strong and healthy, and your metabolic processes in check.
Strength training is a go-to for reduced blood glucose levels, de-stressing, improved focus, balance, stability and cardiovascular function, strong bones and muscles and an increased range of movement. For diabetes patients, all these health benefits are a small blessing, and strength exercises can significantly improve their condition and help them control it in the long run.