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What is resistance exercise and why is it important to people with diabetes?

resistance training
Active senior couple doing exercises with a resistance band in gym

All physical activity is good for people with diabetes, but different types of exercise can present different benefits. The two main types of exercise are aerobic exercise and resistance exercise.In this article we will answer the question, what is resistance exercise.

Aerobic exercise works your lungs and heart, and helps carry oxygen around the body. Resistance exercise works to build muscle strength, together with bone strength and bone density. It has also been shown to be a valuable tool in maintaining blood glucose targets, by improving glucose regulation. Studies also show regular resistance exercise can help to increase levels of lipoprotein – the ‘good’ and desirable cholesterol.

Resistance exercise may also provide the necessary emotional boost for those who need to see results quickly in order to remain motivated. Results are usually seen more quickly than with aerobic exercise, with muscles often become visibly more toned within a short time.

What exactly is resistance exercise?

Resistance exercise forces the muscles to work repeatedly to overcome a resistance force. Weight lifting is a common resistance exercise, but it is not the only one.

Some exercises like weight lifting may use external resistance force from dumbbells, weight machines or resistance bands. Other exercises use the body’s own weight as the force. You may know this last form of resistance exercise as ‘calisthenics’. Exercises that fall in this group, using the body’s own weight, include push-ups, sit-ups, and abdominal curls.

Resistance exercise recommendations

The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend resistance exercise at least two days a week for all individuals. For people with diabetes, the Canadian Diabetes Association suggests a goal of three times a week.

The Association stresses the need to first get instruction from a qualified exercise specialist. If your family member or friend has type 1 diabetes or has type 2 diabetes and uses insulin, it is also very important to check with the diabetes team before starting any new form of physical activity.  Insulin adjustments may be required.

When it comes to specific exercises, the Canadian Diabetes Association recommends that at each resistance exercise session, most of the body’s major muscles should be worked with 8 to 10 different exercises. Each exercise should be repeated 10 to 15 times at light to moderate intensity. As your body becomes used to this exercise routine, the routine can be repeated two or three times a session.

Exercise safely

As always, people with diabetes should put safety first and stop exercising if there is excessive shortness of breath or any chest pain. If this occurs, a doctor should be consulted.

Your family member or friend with diabetes should also remember to monitor blood glucose before, during and after exercising. This can be a great motivator, since levels are often immediately improved by the exercise.

People with diabetes who exercise in a gym should wear a MedicAlert® bracelet or necklace.

If you have questions about resistance exercise for people with diabetes, please feel free to post them in the Discussion forum section of the website. Another member of the Diabetes Care Community may be able to help.

About Diabetes Care

Diabetes Care Community is the author of articles on a wide range of diabetes topics. All of these articles are written to a high standard of quality. They are reviewed for accuracy with health care professionals and, wherever possible, will adhere to Diabetes Canada's 2018 Clinical Practice Guidelines. It is our wish that you find our articles helpful. We welcome your feedback and comments.

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