How strength training helps manage diabetes

Strength training is an important part of a diabetes management plan. Here’s why.

18 April 2016
by Meg de Jong

Cardio, or aerobic exercise has long been at the centre of diabetes management plans. The benefits are many – not least of all strengthening the heart. But if you’ve been leaving strength training by the wayside, it’s time to reconsider because strength or resistance training offer myriad benefits to those managing diabetes. 

Why is strength training beneficial?

Strength or resistance training is very helpful for controlling blood sugar levels, and can also improve insulin sensitivity. “It enhances the uptake of glucose by the muscles,” explains diabetes nurse Ziets Roets. Weight loss and lowered risk of heart disease are other benefits, just like they are when it comes to cardio exercise. 

Maintaining muscle mass is also important for improving the metabolic rate, says Roets. “It has a knock-on effect too,” she adds, explaining that maintaining patients’ strength contributes to their freedom and independence, which is fundamental for a condition that requires self-management.

Should it be combined with aerobic exercise?

A study published in Diabetologia has shown that an exercise routine combining both cardio and strength activities is the most beneficial to patients. The study, which looked at around 1000 patients, found that the combination of exercise not only helped patients manage their blood sugar levels, but also improved cholesterol, blood pressure and body weight maintenance better than aerobic or strength training alone. 

How to begin strength training

All exercise routines should be tailored to the individual, physiotherapist Belinda le Roux reminds us. Particularly if you have health complications, it’s best to consult a professional before beginning. 

There are many different kinds of strength training, from dumbbells to weight machines, elastic bands to using your own body weight. Firstly, figure out which works best for you. Once you have a programme, you must begin slowly with low resistance until your strength improves. Ideally, diabetes patients should do some exercise every day, or a minimum of 150 minutes per week. 

Le Roux also cautions people with diabetes to take great care with footwear and their feet. “Regular inspection of your feet following physical activity should be done to avoid any unwitting damage from peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage due to diabetes),” she says. 

Easy strength exercises to try at home

You can try any of these exercises at home. Remember to start slowly and not to push yourself further than is comfortable. Repeat as many times as is comfortable, trying to increase each time.

  • Stand with your back against a wall. Walk forward until your feet are slightly in front of your hips, and place your hands on your thighs. Squat down into the sitting position, so that your thighs are parallel to the ground. To start, just hold this for a few moments before releasing. Once you’ve built up a bit of strength, you can try rising up onto balls of feet as you reach arms overhead, while in the squat position.
  • Lie on the floor with legs bent at 90 degrees – as if seated at an invisible chair. Keep your arms by your sides, palms facing down. Lower one foot until it’s hovering just above the ground and hold it there for as long as you can, before switching to the other foot. 
  • Stand with one foot on a sturdy bench or chair, with a light weight in each hand. (If you don’t have weights, you can use cans of food). Step up onto the bench, at the same time curling your weights to your shoulder. Make sure to do an even number on each leg.

How Clicks Clinics can help you

Clicks Clinics will help you prevent, identify and manage diabetes with their wide range of screening tests and health assessments. These include:

  • Glucose Screening with Consultation
  • Urine Test (tests for blood, protein and glucose)
  • Blood Pressure Test
  • Cholesterol Testing and Consultation
  • Lipogram Blood Test (to determine different types of cholesterol)
  • Foot Screening Consultation (to check for diabetes-related foot problems)
  • Clicks Full Basic Screening (BP, Body Mass Index or BMI, meal guide and exercise plan)
  • Clicks Screening Measurements only (BP and BMI)
  • Clicks Comprehensive Screening (BP, BMI, Glucose and Cholesterol screening, plus meal and exercise plan).

To make an appointment at a Clicks Clinic, call 0860 254 257 or visit Clicks Clinics online

For more info

Diabetes South Africa

IMAGE CREDIT: 123rf.com

Read More: Diabetes Super Section