There are three important kinds of exercise for people with diabetes. These include aerobic exercise, strength training and exercises to increase flexibility. (1) It is very important to ask your doctor and health care team what types of exercise you can do. You should not only get permission to exercise but also have guidance on when you should exercise, for how long and any special precautions you should take.

Many people focus on aerobic exercise, which is essential. Moderate aerobic exercise will increase heart rate, the number of breaths per minute and it will also cause a person to sweat or perspire. Most people should include at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week. (2) As mentioned aerobic exercise is important but what about strength training? This blog will explore the definition of strength training, common activities that are examples of strength training and the advantages of strength training in managing diabetes. Links to examples of exercises and possible contraindications will be explored.

What is strength training?

Strength training involves exercises that increases or preserve strength by using resistance. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) encourages this type of exercise to help increase or prevent the loss of muscle and to help prevent osteoporosis. It also helps to decrease heart disease by helping to decrease body fat, blood pressure and cholesterol in some people. To engage in strength training, equipment such as weight machines, resistance bands, free weights and medicine balls are sometimes used. Activities that use your own weight can also be included as part of strength training. (3)

Common activities that are considered strength training

It is common to see children playing at the playground. Picture them laughing, hanging from the jungle-gym, and pulling themselves up to climb a tree. Pulling or lifting one’s own body is a type of strength training. For me, carrying my groceries up two flights of stairs is one way I engage in strength training. Heavy gardening, carrying laundry to the washing machine and other types of lifting done as household chores can also be included as strength training. (4) As you can see, do not be deterred if you do not have expensive weight training equipment. It is often recommended to use common items around the house such as laundry soap containers, and water or milk bottles to use as part of exercise equipment.

No matter what you use, get help from professionals and develop a program. It is the job of these professionals to teach you to exercise correctly to prevent injury. I have asked my own doctor for a prescription to see a physical therapist (PT). The PT taught me various exercises using resistance bands and other tools to help me preserve my strength after an illness. She encouraged me wear a weighted vest to help build strength. Everyone should seek professional help to learn to exercise correctly.

Is strength training recommended for someone with diabetes?

Strength training should be part of an exercise program for most people with diabetes. This type of exercise helps increase insulin sensitivity and thus helps to decrease blood glucose. Strength training also decreases the gain of abdominal fat. It helps increase strength and build muscle mass. Muscles help us to burn calories and increase endurance. Bone heath is maintained or promoted. Strength training helps to decrease the risk for osteoporosis. (4,5)

Do you know how many calories a pound of muscle burns per hour? The National Council on Strength and Fitness calculates the number as one pound of muscle burns 4.7 calories per hour during moderate exertion.

It is recommended by the American Diabetes Association (ADA) and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) to do strength training at least 2 times per week. This is in addition to aerobic exercise. (3,5) As mentioned before, you should work with a professional to set up an exercise program.

You may consider recommendations by the ACSM to exercise all major muscle groups with a total of 8-10 different exercises. Ask your health care provider if you can work up to a total of 8-12 repetitions each. (3)

Links to examples of strength training routines
The following links give examples of strength training programs or exercises. Review the links and talk to your doctor to see if any of these can be approved for you.

  1. Move – Sample Strength Activity Plan
  2. Joslin Diabetes Center – Resistance Band Routines
  3. U.S. News Health – 10 Forms of Resistance Training

Possible Contraindications to Exercise

The following points should be discussed with your doctor to make sure you know when not to exercise

  1. It is usually recommended not to exercise if your blood glucose is over 250 mg/dl and you have ketones present. (6) Ask your doctor at what blood glucose level you should abstain from exercise and what you should do to get your blood glucose under control.
  2. Elevated or very low blood pressure.
  3. Hypoglycemia. Test your blood glucose before you exercise. Ask your medical team at what value is it safe to exercise.(**Ask if you need to test and possibly treat your glucose levels during and after exercise. This will depend on the medications you need).
  4. Eye problems or other health care issues

Ask your doctor about strength training. When you have approval, get help in learning how to exercise correctly. You will feel better and help yourself better control your diabetes.