Type 2 diabetes occurs when a person’s pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin to control blood sugar levels. A spike in blood sugar levels over time can pose serious health risks such as heart disease and strokes. Fortunately the condition can largely be prevented if people stick to a healthy diet and maintain a healthy weight – obesity is a major risk factor. A recent finding suggests a certain exercise may help to prevent the condition.
New research published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings shows building muscle strength may be one way to lower risk for the disease.
The study of more than 4,500 adults found moderate muscle mass reduced the risk for type 2 diabetes by 32 percent.
The benefits were independent of cardiorespiratory fitness, and higher levels of muscle strength did not provide additional protection.
DC (Duck-chul) Lee, associate professor of kinesiology at Iowa State University and corresponding author of the study, says the results are encouraging because even small amounts of resistance exercise may be helpful in preventing type 2 diabetes by improving muscle strength.
However, it is difficult to recommend an optimal level as there are no standardised measurements for muscle strength, he said.
“Naturally, people will want to know how often to lift weights or how much muscle mass they need, but it’s not that simple,” Lee said.
“As researchers, we have several ways to measure muscle strength, such as grip strength or bench press. More work is needed to determine the proper dose of resistance exercise, which may vary for different health outcomes and populations.”
Study participants completed chest and leg presses to measure muscle strength.
Those measurements were adjusted for age, gender and body weight as potential confounders, which is an example of why researchers say it is complicated to provide general recommendations.
The current study is one of the first to look at the risk of type 2 diabetes and muscle strength, separate from cardiorespiratory fitness.
Participants ranged in age from 20 to 100 years old. All were required to complete initial and follow-up exams.
Brellenthin said moderate strength reduced the risk of type 2 diabetes regardless of lifestyle choices such as smoking and drinking, or health issues such as obesity and high blood pressure.
While several factors contribute to muscle strength, Brellenthin said resistance exercise is important.
Information on resistance exercise was not available for most participants, with the exception of a small group, which showed a moderate correlation between muscle strength and frequency or days per week of resistance exercise.
Other research has found resistance training improves glucose levels and reduces waist circumference — an indicator of excess fat associated with type 2 diabetes and other health issues, Brellenthin said.
While Brellenthin acknowledged data for the study are not sufficient to provide suggestions for weight training, she said some is better than none. Getting started does not require a gym membership or expensive equipment. In fact, you can start at home by doing body-weight exercises.
“We want to encourage small amounts of resistance training and it doesn’t need to be complicated,” Brellenthin said. “You can get a good resistance workout with squats, planks or lunges. Then, as you build strength, you can consider adding free weights or weight machines.”