Kolkata-based Fitness Expert
Celebrity Fitness Coach and Founder of KynamaX
Registered Dietician and Certified Diabetes Educator with 17 years of experience
B.Pharm, MSc. Public Health and Health Economics
Exercising with weights or any form of resistance is considered extremely beneficial for diabetics. When done correctly, it has proved to be a safe and effective way to control blood glucose, increase strength, and improve the quality of life of individuals with diabetes. This is because strength training assists the body to respond better to insulin , improves the way it uses blood sugar, aids in weight loss and lowers your risk of heart disease.
Let us find out how:
Understanding strength training
Strength training is a type of physical exercise that uses resistance to allow your muscles to contract and as a result helps in building strength, bone density, builds a stronger heart, and anaerobic endurance. It also helps in reducing your resting blood pressure, improves blood flow, and halts the process of muscle loss.
According to Kolkata-based Fitness Expert Arnav Sarkar, “Strength training is any form of physical training using some resistance that is performed with the goal of getting stronger.”
Why should diabetics, in particular, try strength training?
Huzefa Lokhandwala, Celebrity Fitness Coach and Founder of KynamaX, a fitness technique that uses resistance bands instead of gym equipment for a full body workout, strongly believes that strength training in diabetics can help improve the body’s ability to use insulin and process glucose.
This happens because:
- Strength training leads to an increase in muscle mass. This raises your Basal Metabolic Rate and causes the body to burn more calories, which in turn helps keep your blood glucose levels in check.
- Keeping a tab on blood sugar levels by burning more calories allows the muscles to store more glucose, which amplifies the body’s strength, and as a result, also its ability to regulate glucose levels.
- Strength training also helps in decreasing the amount of insulin utilised by your body to store energy in fat cells, thus considerably reducing your fat-to-muscle ratio.
Cardiovascular exercises, on the other hand, raise your heart rate for an extended period of time. They mainly help in improving your fitness, stamina and burning calories faster. Sarkar suggests that compared to cardiovascular training, which is often prescribed for diabetics, strength training has some added benefits to offer:
- It helps to increase bone density.
- It helps to shape the body better and make it more visually appealing.
Beginner level strength training exercises to get you started
- Barbell Squats: This movement is often called the king of all exercises as it works many muscle groups of the upper and lower body together. Use a barbell and place it on your upper back. Squat down as low as you can go comfortably and then stand back up. Repeat for the required number of reps.
- Overhead Press: This is a great movement for building upper body strength. Use a barbell or dumbbell and hold it around shoulder height. From there, press it up in one motion and lockout the arms at the top. Lower the bar back to starting position and repeat.
- Kettlebell Swing: This movement is great for elevating metabolism while strengthening the posterior chain muscles. Grab a kettlebell with one or both hands and then swing it behind you as if passing it to someone behind while bending at the hips and the knees. Then straighten the hips and knees while swinging the kettlebell up and in front you. Repeat for reps without putting the kettlebell down.
Lokhandwala cautions that diabetics have to take care not to create a lot of stress on the joints, even on the tendons and ligaments. Hence, the use of resistance bands is the best option , especially if you are a beginner who is starting a strength training program, but even if you have been working out for a while. Switching to resistance bands will decrease the chances of injuries.
Strength training guidelines for people with diabetes
In terms of safety when strength training, the general rules apply:
- Listen to your body. If something doesn’t feel right then don’t push it.
- Consult a professional trainer to see if you are doing a movement correctly.
- If you feel weak, dizzy, or lightheaded, stop!
- Make progress gradually. It takes time to get stronger and trying to rush it can cause injuries.
- However, do keep progress in mind as you continue. Lifting the same weight for the same number of repetitions forever won’t make you any better or healthier.
A word of caution for people who are on insulin
Sarkar urges you to keep in mind that strength training or any other form of exercise is NOT meant to be a replacement for medication. It is to be used along with prescribed medication and healthy lifestyle changes to fight diabetes.
It is recommended that you consult your doctor and/or a nutritionist as to when and what you should eat before and after exercise since exercise can cause a drop in blood sugar levels. Also, do keep some form of natural sugar, such as an apple at hand in case of an emergency.
Not a fan of lifting weights? Try yoga to control your diabetes instead.
- Neil D. Eves and Ronald C. Plotnikoff. Resistance Training and Type 2 Diabetes Considerations for implementation at the population level. Diabetes Care 2006 Aug; 29(8): 1933-1941. https://doi.org/10.2337/dc05-1981
- Dominik H. Pesta, Renata L. S. Goncalves, Anila K. Madiraju, Barbara Strasser and Lauren M. Sparks. Resistance training to improve type 2 diabetes: working toward a prescription for the future. 2nd March 2017. Nutrition & Metabolism201714:24 https://doi.org/10.1186/s12986-017-0173-7