Back in 1975, aspiring actor and 5-time Mr. Olympia, Arnold Schwarzenegger, was convinced to compete again by 2 filmmakers wanting to capture his training in their bodybuilding documentary, Pumping Iron. Despite having only 3 months to prepare, Arnold easily won his 6th consecutive Mr. Olympia title.
What Arnold didn’t know was that bodybuilding – also called strength training or resistance training – has been proven to have a tremendous positive impact on preventing and managing diabetes. And what we didn’t know was the Pumping Iron wasn’t going to be the last we saw of Mr. Schwarzenegger…he’d definitely “be back!”
How does this work?
Why exactly does building muscle affect blood sugars? Isn’t it all related to what we eat?
Not all. There are so many factors that influence and affect the rise and fall of our blood sugar (blood glucose) that focusing solely on food is a big mistake.
So let’s talk about how this works first.
Strength training or resistance training as some people call it helps improve your body’s ability to use insulin and store glucose. This, in turn, helps you to maintain lower overall blood sugars over the long-term through increased insulin sensitivity. Basically, it helps your body deal with excess glucose more efficiently.
Your body stores glucose primarily in your muscles. So the more muscle mass you have (and we’re definitely not talking Mr. Olympia-level bulk here), the more potential places you have to store that blood sugar which gets it out of your bloodstream where it’s potentially doing damage over time.
In addition to making you more efficient at storing glucose, muscles burn calories even at rest – helping you to maintain a healthy weight. And the process of building those muscles expends calories, helping you lose weight. You’ll also benefit from better endurance, better moods, and better balance. All very important, especially as we get older!
Everyday strength training ideas
If going to the gym to literally pump iron is your thing, then, by all means, do so. But if you’d rather stay close to home to build some healthy muscle, there are things you can do throughout your day that will help you accomplish that goal.
Around the house, you can use canned goods as weights and get in some bicep curls and arm raises while you’re on a stationary bike, during commercials, or even when you’re putting groceries away! Bottled water or water jugs will also work if the average soup can feels too easy for you.
Old style Calisthenics are great weight-bearing exercises that use your own bodyweight for the resistance end of the equation. Things like sit-ups, push-ups or wall push-ups, squats, leg lifts, and lunges work your larger muscle groups.
If you’re unsteady on any of those, keep a chair handy for some added balance support. Or use the doorknob method to keep steady if squats are a challenge. Even taking the stairs is a form of resistance training.
YouTube literally has a million videos showing you how to work in strength training throughout your day. Plus there are videos that can guide you through using resistance bands which are a popular way to strength train, especially if you struggle with things like squats and lunges or if you have mobility issues in general.
On the topic of mobility, you can even strength train if you are immobile or bedridden. And don’t discount some of the less aggressive resistance training programs out there. Strength training for improved health and lower blood sugar isn’t about straining or exhausting yourself by trying to deadlift 500lbs. It’s about lower weights and higher repetitions so that you’re adding lean muscle and not bulking up.
Need a little more inspiration?
Be sure to check out 65 Ways to Get More Active Every Day on the Sweet People Club blog. We dive deep into the benefits of both strength training and aerobic activity and their effects on diabetes and blood sugar management. You’ll get heart-pumping easy, everyday fitness ideas to get you started.
In addition to helping you “think outside the box” when it comes to bringing physical fitness into your life, the goal of that post was to show you that you can reap substantial benefits from just a few minutes of activity several times a day. It doesn’t have to be 30 or 60 minutes at a time. This is especially true when it comes to resistance training.
Before you start any new workout routine
Be sure that you get the approval of your primary care provider before you begin any new exercise program that involves more than just walking. This is especially important if you have diabetes, uncontrolled high blood pressure, eye or kidney issues, or joint and mobility challenges.