An Essential Exercise For Bones, Mobility, and Blood Sugar Control

We know regular exercise is important for diabetes management, but may mistakenly focus all our workout efforts on aerobic exercise.

However, strength training, whether using the weight of a light dumbbell or our own body, might be the best physical activity for lifelong mobility and fitness.

Benefits of Bearing Weight

Weight-bearing exercise is particularly good at counteracting posture problems, and bone loss that can increase as we age. Strength training maintains the muscle tone necessary for good balance, and range-of-motion, plus it provides metabolic, mood, and cardiovascular perks:

  • It boosts insulin sensitivity because our muscles are metabolically active, and use blood sugar for fuel.
  • It lowers inflammation, an indicator for chronic illness including diabetes, and heart disease.
  • It’s associated with reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety, two mental health conditions that often accompany a diabetes diagnosis.
  • It works the cardiovascular system, improving heart health.
  • It helps prevent type 2 diabetes by reducing the risk for metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions (large belly, high blood pressure, elevated glucose, high triglycerides) often preceding diabetes onset.

One recent study showed a twice-weekly strength-based exercise program diminished belly fat, and improved insulin sensitivity in older men with type 2 diabetes—no other lifestyle changes were involved.

Strength Training Basics

Strength training includes weight lifting, calisthenics, yoga, exercising with stretch bands, weight machines, medicine balls, and kettlebells. Choosing strength activities we enjoy increases exercise motivation. Knowing strength training fundamentals lets us reap the benefits while avoiding injury:

  • Frequency. Ideally, strength training is done two to three times each week, but not on consecutive days. Muscles need 48 hours to recover, repair, and grow after each workout. We can strength train more frequently by alternating the muscle groups we work on.
  • Oxygen. Without realizing it, many people hold their breath while engaged in weight-bearing activities. It’s important to exhale at the point of greatest exertion, or when lifting a weight. We should inhale as weights are lowered, or when muscles relax.
  • Reps and Sets. The number of times we perform an activity - doing a lunge, or lifting a dumbbell - is called a “rep,” short for repetition. Each rep should be done slowly - taking about 4 to 6 seconds - and with control.
  • The number of reps we do in succession, before resting, is called a set.
  • For muscle tone and general conditioning doing two sets of 10 to 12 reps is the standard guideline, but we need to consider our personal fitness level and goals. To improve tone and strength, the last rep in each set should fatigue the muscle group being exercised, without causing us to lose control, or break form. As we strengthen, our reps, sets, or weight load can be increased.
  • Rest. Muscles need to rest and recover between sets. So, for three sets of 10 lunges we would: do 10 lunges, rest a minute, do 10 more lunges, rest again, and then do the final 10 lunges.

To get the most out of strength training it’s best to get expert advice about proper form—if not from a personal trainer, then from professionals on fitness videos. Also, remember:

There are really only two requirements when it comes to exercise.  One is that you do it.  The other is that you continue to do it.  ~ from The New Glucose Revolution for Diabetes

Sources: Mercola Fitness; USDA Exercise Guidelines
Photo credit: Isle of Man Government

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