Will weight training help reduce diabetes risk?

DEAR DOCTOR K:

I have a family history of diabetes, and I’d like to do what I can to reduce my risk. My doctor says aerobic exercise will help, but I prefer weight training. Could that help too?

DEAR READER:

Exercise, particularly aerobic exercise, helps to reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes, which is by far the more common type of diabetes. So I assume that’s the type that runs in your family.

Of course, not everyone can do aerobic activity. Others, like yourself, may simply prefer weight training. According to a study from Harvard and the University of Southern Denmark, weight training can also cut diabetes risk.

Your body relies on a basic fuel called glucose, which comes from the starches and sugars you eat. A hormone called insulin delivers the glucose from your blood to the cells of your body. But if you don’t produce enough insulin, or if your cells ignore the insulin, you may develop Type 2 diabetes.

The biggest risk factor for Type 2 diabetes is being overweight. Aerobic activity burns large amounts of energy, which helps achieve weight loss and lower diabetes risk. Indeed, in the study I mentioned, men who did 150 minutes a week of aerobic exercise — brisk walking, jogging, swimming or tennis, for example — reduced their diabetes risk by 52 percent. This result was in line with past studies.

But this study also found that men who did 150 minutes of weight training per week saw a 34 percent risk reduction. That was true regardless of whether they performed aerobic exercise. Why might weight training reduce diabetes risk? Your muscles use glucose. By creating more muscle that needs more glucose when you exercise, you reduce glucose levels remaining in the blood.

I do both aerobic exercise and weight training. What did the study find about people like me? Such people had a 59 percent reduction in diabetes risk.

Aerobic exercise has benefits beyond reducing diabetes risk. It also lowers the risk for many other diseases, including heart disease. And it is associated with a longer lifespan.

So, I recommend adding some aerobic exercise to your routine. You can keep the focus on weight training, but add some aerobics.

When weight training, remember to warm up and cool down to reduce your risk of injury. Give your muscles at least 48 hours to recover between weight-training sessions. If you are just beginning a weight-training program, a physical therapist or trainer can help to select exercises that are right for your body and current health.

Like you, many people have a family history of diabetes. That means your risk is higher than it is for the average person. The good news is that you can greatly reduce your risk of getting diabetes. Being able to reduce your risk of any major disease by 50 to 60 percent is remarkable. In fact, there is no medicine yet invented that can reduce your risk for Type 2 diabetes as much as the combination of aerobic exercise and weight training.