The effectiveness of regular physical activity is well-known in the treatment and prevention of type 2 diabetes. However, obesity, arthritis, physical disabilities, and/or complications of diabetes often throw a wrench in physical activity. Indeed, only 28% of individuals with type 2 diabetes were achieving the recommended 150 minutes per week of moderate aerobic physical activity according to a population-based study noted in Diabetes Care, August 2006.
Many studies have been conducted in recent years to see if another type of physical activity, muscle-strengthening, could also be as helpful. Muscle-strengthening provides a great alternative for those who find aerobic exercise difficult, as it can be largely done while seated.
Muscle-strengthening and conditioning activities like weight lifting, yoga, stretching, and/or toning have indeed been shown to be effective in treating and preventing type 2 diabetes. While the most benefit comes from combining aerobic exercise and muscle-strengthening exercise, regularly doing only muscle-strengthening exercise has been shown to be as helpful as regularly doing just aerobic exercise.
Why is this? Type 2 diabetes begins as a disease of insulin resistance. Simply put in terms of a car engine, the body’s primary fuel which is glucose (sugar) needs the help of insulin to enter the body’s engine which is primarily muscle cells. It seems that well-trained muscle is efficient at taking in glucose, but as muscle is used less and less it becomes ‘resistant’ to the help of insulin. This is one factor allowing the fuel to build up to an unhealthy level outside the engine, or in other words, allowing blood sugar levels to become dangerously high.
Unfortunately, we live in a day when movement requiring muscle strength is being engineered out our lives at all ages. We call this progress, but our cells are telling us otherwise. Adding simple activities back into our lives that will keep all our muscles strengthened and conditioned helps cells maintain their efficiency at taking in glucose. Strength-training activities done two to three times a week using all major muscle groups are therapeutic against type 2 diabetes.
Muscle-training and conditioning is often something that requires education and supervision to get started. I recently found this in a surprising place. I was lucky enough to join in one of the exercise sessions held at the Churchill County Senior Citizens Center every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 9 a.m. The sessions sensibly include all the types of physical activity: walking, stretching, and strength-training. As I strained to do one of the seated strength-training exercises, I noticed one of my 80 plus year-old cohorts doing it easily. Someone quipped, ‘Don’t worry, dear. That’s a tough one, but you’ll get stronger if you keep coming!”
Debbie Coblentz, a registered dietitian, writes Eating Smart every other month with Mary Koch. Your comments in response to this article are welcome — send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.