A Mass General fitness expert says strength training can help lower blood pressure and control blood glucose levels for patients with type 2 diabetes.

Patients with type 2 diabetes benefit greatly from exercise. Endurance activities like walking or cycling improve cardiovascular function, lower blood pressure and help control blood glucose levels. These results make aerobic endurance exercise a well-accepted part of a diabetes management plan. Now researchers suggest that strength training offers people with type 2 diabetes additional desirable effects.

Diabetes and Strength Training

We know strength training increases muscle strength and makes everyday activities like carrying groceries easier. It also counteracts age-related muscle decline and protects against muscle loss in individuals on a weight-loss plan. Other positive effects specifically related to type 2 diabetes are equally compelling.

Studies suggest that regular strength training improves glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity.

Type 2 diabetes is a condition in which the body does not use insulin properly. This causes blood glucose (sugar) levels to rise higher than normal. According to the American Diabetes Association, high blood glucose levels can starve cells of energy and over time may hurt a person’s eyes, kidneys, nerves or heart. Type 2 diabetes patients may be prescribed medications or insulin to keep glucose levels in check.

A growing number of studies suggest that regular strength training improves glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity and modestly reduces HbA1c (glycated haemoglobin, which is measured to determine a 2-to-3-month blood sugar average). These benefits may be related to a simple increase in lean muscle or to cellular mechanisms enhanced by strength training exercise. Whatever the reason, these effects are slightly different from those derived from aerobic endurance exercise. Since strength training enhances muscle function in ways that endurance exercise does not, it compliments endurance exercise.

Getting Started

Always begin by having a conversation with your doctor about taking up strength training. Your individual health concerns are important to consider before embarking on any new exercise program. If you are inexperienced with strength training (or exercise in general) seek the advice of a qualified fitness professional.

Strength training exercises include using your body weight, elastic bands or barbells.

There are many ways to perform strength training, but they all involve challenging muscles to generate force against resistance. The resistance could be one’s own body weight, elastic bands or tubing or dumbbells and barbells. A good personal trainer can advise you about what will work best for you.

Once you have your strength training plan in place, be faithful to it. Even if you start with a brief program with just a handful of exercises, sticking to it over the long-term will pay off in accrued benefits.

Use it as part of your overall diabetes management plan, and, odds are, you’ll experience improvement in your glycemic control and overall health.

Mike Bento is an advanced trainer at The Clubs at Charles River Park and Massachusetts General Hospital. He holds a master’s degree in human movement and is certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine as a corrective exercise specialist and performance enhancement specialist.