Type 2 diabetes is a disease that is manageable with proper lifestyle modifications. We know that exercise provides significant health benefits for diabetics, but which type is best? New research suggests that alternating between aerobic and resistance exercises may be the key to optimal diabetes management.
The study, featured in the Journal of the American Medial Association, set out to determine which exercise routine has the greatest impact on blood sugar levels. Researchers examined the benefits of cardiovascular or aerobic training alone (such as walking or running,) resistance training alone (such as weight lifting) and a combination of the two on blood sugar levels among 262 sedentary people with Type 2 diabetes over the course of nine months. Of the 262 participants, 73 did resistance exercise, 72 aerobic exercise and 76 did a combination of both aerobic and resistance exercise. The remaining 41 did not exercise and served as the control group.
All participants had a hemoglobin A1C level (HbA1c) of 6.5 percent or higher at the beginning of the study. HbA1c, also known as glycosolated hemoglobin, is a measurement of blood sugar levels over the past two to three months, a much more effective measurement tool than those that measure the past hour. The average HbA1c level at the beginning of the study was 7.7 percent (the goal is 6 percent or lower.) At the end of the study, those who did a combination of aerobic and resistance exercise demonstrated a 1 percent decrease in blood sugar levels, while those in the aerobic-only group and resistance-only group had no significant reductions. Prior research has shown that even a 1 percent decrease in blood sugar levels has been associated with a 15 to 20 percent decrease in cardiovascular disease events, such as heart attacks.
Secondary outcomes, such as changes in body fat, fitness, strength and changes in diabetic medications were also assessed. While participants in all exercise groups reduced their waist size compared to controls, those in the combination group lost the most fat mass. The combination group also lowered the amount of diabetes medications they were taking.
Exercise is particularly helpful in achieving blood sugar control because the skeletal muscles (those which we use during exercise) consume and utilize the blood sugar. Diabetes is characterized by insulin resistance, which means that the sugar can’t get into the cell. Ultimately, regular exercise makes the muscles more sensitive to insulin.
Although both aerobic and resistance exercise provide health benefits separately, only the combination of the two resulted in a statistically significant reduction in blood sugar levels. Exercise, then, is theoretically providing the same physiological benefits as the oral anti-diabetic medications. Unlike the medications, however, exercise provides tremendous health benefits that go beyond blood sugar control.
So get moving, and change up your routine. This is just more evidence that: yes, exercise is that important.