Can weight training help control blood sugar levels?

by Barbara Hewitt on December 4, 2012

Can weight training help control blood sugar levels?

Researchers in Canada are trying to find out if weight training along with aerobic exercise can help control blood sugar levels in people with type 1 diabetes. A clinical research trial, funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, is underway led by Dr Ron Sigal of the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research with 128 participants from Calgary, Ottawa, Toronto and Winnipeg.

The team has previously looked at the exercise regime relating to people with type 2 diabetes. ‘A 1% drop in Hemoglobin A1c, reflecting a 12 to 15% drop in average blood sugar levels, reduces the risk of blindness, kidney failure or amputations by 25 to 40%,’ said Sigal. ‘Our hope for this study of people with type 1 diabetes is that we will see similar results to our previous study of people with type 2 diabetes,’ he added.

In 2007, Sigal’s study of 251 people with type 2 diabetes found people in the group that combined aerobic and weight training experienced a .97% drop in their blood sugar. ‘That group of participants had much better control of their blood sugar levels than people in the group that undertook just one type of exercise,’ explained Sigal.

Quote from DiabetesForum.com : “I’m on a fat loss program, I eat healthy and exercise almost daily by weight lifting. However something I noticed and that has been bugging me. Whenever I return home from the gym and test my sugar level, it’s always sky high. This is very annoying and disappointing to me since I cannot lose weight if my sugar levels are high. I make sure I test my sugar level and inject the right amount of insulin before the gym.. yet when I return home my sugar is usually very high.”

Pari Majcan, one of the study’s participants in Calgary, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was nine years old, and ever since then, she has worked hard to keep her blood sugar under control. ‘Before I did this programme my blood sugar was up and down. This has been a great investment of a year. I’ve learned so much about my body and how it responds to exercise. It has really been the chance of a lifetime,’ said Majcan.

Those taking part in the study have type 1 diabetes and are already doing aerobic exercise regularly, but not resistance exercise. The study randomly allocates participants to two groups: the intervention group members continue the same level of aerobic exercise as they were performing before entering the study, and also build up to 135 minutes of weight training each week.

Control group members continue their usual aerobic exercise without resistance exercise, but have the option of beginning a weight training programme after their 6 month outcome measures have been taken. Participants do their weight training at four YMCA locations in Calgary under the supervision of University of Calgary Exercise Specialist Tania White. A nurse educator and dietician, both of whom specialise in diabetes care, meet with the participants, record their blood sugar levels, assess their insulin therapy and work with participants on optimising their diabetes care.

Those taking part keep a journal of their food, medication, exercise programme, and blood sugar measurements. The study team will also carry out interviews and blood tests with participants every three months. ‘People taking part in the study record their blood sugar levels before and after each exercise session both for safety, and also as part of the study protocol,’ said Diana Mitchell, manager of clinical trials in diabetes at the University of Calgary Faculty of Medicine.

‘Right now, we don’t have many options beyond medication to offer people with type 1 diabetes. We hope this study will prove that weight training, when combined with aerobic exercise, offers people a significant option to lower their blood sugar levels,’ explained Sigal, adding ‘Lowering that blood sugar helps us to prevent the devastating illnesses that spring out of diabetes: heart attack, stroke, blindness and amputation’.

The Canadian Diabetes Association reports that life expectancy for people with type 1 diabetes may be shortened by as much as 15 years.


The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the DiabetesForum.com Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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