What if I told you that I have the magic formula for looking good, feeling amazing, and using less insulin (or other diabetes drugs)?!! Would you believe me?
Well, I do have a magic formula!
But it’s not really magic, and you will have to work for it. The good news is that there is a readily available way of achieving those three things. It’s called resistance training.
What kind of magic is this?
From a diabetes perspective, resistance training really seems like magic, since it’s one of the most powerful ways to significantly improve insulin sensitivity.
Improved insulin sensitivity makes it easier to manage your diabetes (once you understand the new sensitivity patterns) and can significantly reduce the amount of diabetes drugs needed (goes for both T1D and T2D).
Think of your muscles as a lot of little “gas tanks” that can store glucose. Because glucose from your food is mainly absorbed by your muscle tissue, resistance training (which builds muscle mass) is particularly good at improving blood sugars after meals.
An added (and very welcome) benefit of resistance training is that you use a lot of energy (calories) to build and maintain your muscles, making it an excellent weight management tool. You don’t have to build bodybuilder-sized muscles to achieve this effect, or even the amount of muscle mass I have. Any improvement from where you are now will help.
Besides the (pretty awesome) diabetes management benefits, resistance training also has a large number of other health benefits, like improving bone density, strengthening your joints, and improving your mood and mental well-being.
Finally, many people find muscles aesthetically pleasing (they look good), which can be a great bonus as well.
So what exactly is resistance training?
In its simplest form, resistance training just means that you put tension on your muscles using some type of resistance. It can be done anywhere and doesn’t necessarily have to include weights.
Wait, what? No weights?
Nope, not if you don’t want to. I like using weights in the form of dumbbells, barbells, or machines, but I also often just use my body weight or resistance bands. You can use soup cans if that’s what you have available — it really doesn’t matter, as long as you challenge your muscles.
The benefit of using resistance bands or body weight is that your workout isn’t bound to a certain place and it’s an inexpensive way to work out.
However, if you were to invest in some equipment for your home, I’d recommend that you start with a set of dumbbells and build from there. When you no longer feel like your home workout is challenging enough, it might be time to explore investing in a gym membership, because resistance training is something I hope you’ll fall in love with and continue doing for the rest of your life.
Give me, give me! How do I do this?
If resistance training is completely new to you, I suggest you start easy. Depending on your current fitness level, a few bodyweight exercises at home 3 times per week might be a good way to start.
If you are a little further in your journey, maybe it’s time to up your game and move to some heavier weights 3-4 times weekly.
I don’t think you need to spend more than 30-60 minutes doing your resistance training sessions. The length of your sessions should depend on your goals.
I suggest you start by keeping it simple and doing full-body workouts. Make sure to take at least one full day’s break between workouts. Muscle fibers develop microscopic tears during a resistance workout (this is how they grow, so it’s a good thing) and need that day of rest (as a minimum) to grow, rebuild and get stronger. Working the same body part two days in a row is not advisable.
A good place to start is with the home workout or gym workout videos I made for the Strong With Diabetes Challenge. They are simple but effective and can be dialed up or down depending on your current strength level and the equipment you have access to.
For example, if I recommend 12-15 repetitions for an exercise, that simply means that you should pick a weight that will feel really challenging at 12 repetitions and you should be hard pressed to do 15 reps.
If you only have very light dumbbells (or soup cans or grocery bags), simply increase the number of repetitions until you fatigue your muscles.
But most importantly:
- Do what you can, and what your body allows
- Commit to improving and challenge yourself
- Take breaks and rest when needed.
I hope that this will be the start of a love affair with resistance training (if you don’t love it already). When you start seeing the positive impact on your diabetes, health, and weight, it’s hard to go back.
A few words of caution
Consult with a physician prior to starting a new exercise program if you have any of these conditions:
- Proliferative retinopathy or current retinal hemorrhage
- Neuropathy (nerve damage), either peripheral or autonomic (central)
- Foot injuries (including ulcers)
- High blood pressure (especially if not well controlled)
- Any other serious illness, condition or infection.