Is Weight Training the Best Prescription for Diabetes?

Two recent studies point to an alarming increase in the number of people who have diabetes, particularly Type 2 diabetes, which can be prevented and addressed through changes in lifestyle. A third study suggests that weight training may be as good a prescription for the disease as routinely-recommended cardio exercises.

Whether you’re looking for ways to prevent or control diabetes or whether you simply want a more effective way to address weight gain, there’s a growing body of evidence that indicates strength training is essential to maintaining a healthy body.

Cases of Diabetes Increase Worldwide

Weight TrainingA study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) this week found that in 2010, nearly 19 million Americans had been diagnosed with diabetes. The CDC reports that another 7 million people have diabetes but don’t know it. Up to 95 percent of those diagnosed have Type 2 diabetes, a preventable disease.

The increasing number of people with diabetes is a troubling worldwide trend. The International Diabetes Federation (IDF) reports that 371 million across the globe are living with diabetes. The IDF predicts that by 2030, 552 people will have the disease.

Reducing the Risk of Diabetes with Weight Training

A study conducted by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health followed the exercise programs of more than 30,000 health professionals over an 18-year period. While the study found that those who combined cardio exercises and weight training enjoyed the greatest reduction in risk for diabetes, those who only engaged in weight training had a 34 percent lower risk.

The study’s author, Dr. Walter Willet, attributes the beneficial affect of strength building exercises to improved insulin receptor sensitivity. Insulin receptors are the outer parts of a cell that lets the cell bind with insulin in the blood. The study concluded that as muscle mass increases, it becomes easier for insulin receptors to absorb glucose, allowing fuel to pass into the muscles faster.

Affect on Metabolism

The Harvard study seems to back up what weight trainers have long been asserting: Lifting weights increases the body’s metabolism. When metabolism is raised, the body burns more calories even when at rest.

A study conducted at the Human Performance Laboratory at Appalachian State University found that the fuel-burning effects of vigorous exercise could linger for up to 14 hours. Although this study focused on the after effect of 45 minutes of rigorous cycling, the increased energy expenditure seems to apply to weight training as well.

The difference between cardio and weight training lies not in the number of calories burned but in the type. Because resistance training focuses on building muscle mass, it may be better at burning more body fat than cardio exercises. That’s not only good news for those suffering from Type 2 diabetes but for people who wish to lose weight as well.

While diet is an essential component of any weight loss program, burning calories through regular strength training exercises may help dieters reach their goals faster and also help ensure that the weight doesn’t creep back on again.

Weighing the Options

The CDC’s recommendations for exercise for healthy adults includes at least 150 minutes of moderate cardio activity each week and twice-a-week strength building exercises for all major muscle groups.

The Harvard study places importance on both cardio exercises and weight training as well, but Dr. Willet emphasizes that the study found that even 10 minutes a day of resistance training was helpful in preventing and controlling Type 2 diabetes.

For those suffering from diabetes or obesity, knowing that 10 minutes a day of weight training is enough to start them on the road to good health may provide the motivation and hope that they need to move forward towards a brighter and healthier future.