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Simple weight training for diabetics

Easy weight training for diabetics

Are you struggling to carry your shopping? Does moving boxes make you groan? Nicole McCreedy has the answer: simple weight training (for diabetics).

A simple weight training programme can make these everyday chores much easier for you – and get you in great shape. How? Well, lifting weights challenges your muscles, causing them to adapt and get stronger. Strength training builds strong muscles, bones and connective tissue. Not only does this help prevent osteoporosis and muscle loss as one gets older, it is also one of the most natural ways for people with diabetes to improve glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity.

Weight training and diabetes

When you eat carbohydrate, it breaks down into smaller sugars (glucose, fructose and galactose) that get absorbed and used as energy. Any glucose that is not used gets stored in the muscles and the liver in the form of glycogen. Once the glycogen stores are filled up, any extra gets stored as fat. During exercise, the stored glycogen is transported to the active muscle to burn as fuel. Because muscle burns more kilojoules than fat, more muscle and less fat means better insulin use and glucose storage.

Lean muscle also boosts the metabolism and enables your body to burn kilojoules at a faster rate – even after you have finished exercising. A faster metabolism helps insulin to work better.

Getting started at home

Does the thought of weight training make you feel weak at the knees? Then start by learning the lingo before training at home.

A strength training workout is broken down into exercises, repetitions and sets. An exercise is a specific movement that works a muscle group. A rep, or repetition, is one complete motion. For example, to do a bicep curl repetition hold the weight or dumbbell at your shoulder then lower it in a controlled movement as you count to four. Lift the weight back to the starting or recovery position counting to six. A set is the number of repetitions performed together separated by a short rest period.

A workout plan

The next step is to set goals. Goals are a good way to keep yourself motivated. Do you want to tone your body, improve your strength or increase your endurance? Be realistic: results take time. Take photographs or simple body measurements every six to eight weeks to help you notice gradual changes.

Your aim in the beginning should be to develop the right technique. Maintaining the correct posture, while lifting a suitable weight, is important to prevent injuries. Try this side bend in front of the mirror: in one hand hold a weight along the side of your body. Slowly bend sideways sliding the weight toward your knees. Straighten up again. Check that you are not leaning backwards or forwards.

weight training for diabetics

Weighing up the options

You can either buy hand-held (free) weights to use at home or you can improvise. Grab a tin of canned food from the cupboard to start. If that is too light, use a full 1 litre water bottle or a 2 litre milk bottle. Fill with sand to make the bottles heavier. If you are fairly strong, then fill two buckets with sand and try this squat: stand with your feet hip or shoulder width apart and hold a bucket by the handle in each hand.  Then bend your knees and lower yourself into a squat, as though you are about to sit in a chair. Stop when your thighs are parallel to the ground. Make sure your knees do not go beyond your toes. Exhale as you stand up slowly. Repeat without locking your knees.

The amount of weight you use depends on what you want to achieve and how strong you are. Choose a weight that allows you to do the repetitions you want to do without too much strain – only the last few repetitions in the set should feel like a struggle. The idea is that you give the muscle more to lift than it is used to. As the muscles grow stronger, you need to increase the weight until you reach your goal.

Stronger muscles will not only make your daily load feel lighter, but will also help prevent minor accidents from becoming serious injuries.

General advice from a doctor: weight training for diabetics

Prof Joel Dave is an endocrinologist (diabetes specialist). He says:

  • Before embarking on any weight- lifting programme, first discuss it with your doctor.
  • Do not lift any weights if you have proliferative retinopathy, severe non-proliferative retinopathy or a severe peripheral neuropathy
  • Do not lift weights if you have any foot injury or open skin lesions on the feet.
  • Wear adequate protective footwear at all times.
  • At your first session check how the exercise affects your blood glucose so that you will know what to expect in the future.
  • Check your fingerprick glucose before starting each session and proceed only if it is above 5.6 mmol/L.
  • Keep your glucometer and some kind of sugar nearby at all times.
  • It is best to exercise with a partner – do not lift heavy weights without a partner.
  • For the safest route, start with low weights and increase slowly under the guidance of an instructor.

Advice from a biokineticist

Sarah Hall, an expert biokineticist, suggests you ask yourself the following questions:

Are you training for strength, power or endurance?

  • A basic programme for each goal is:
  • Power:  4-6 reps, 2-3 sets;
  • Strength:  6-8 reps, 3-5 sets;
  • Endurance: 15-25 reps, 3 sets

Do you have any previous injuries?

  • Previous injuries may rule out particular movements or ranges of motion in certain joints.

Have you warmed up?

  • Do a light cardio warm up, stretching the muscles you are about to use so that you don’t strain.

How much time do you have?

  • If you have limited time, rather focus on either upper body or lower body. That way you can target each muscle group in that part of the body and even do more than one exercise per muscle group for greater benefit.

Have you allowed enough rest?

  • You need to rest for 40-60 seconds between sets, and 24-48 hours for each muscle group.

Do you know how to practice good body mechanics?

  • Your body is the best machine you own.  Treat it like one and don’t abuse it!  Make sure that you move slowly and with control, breathe, and maintain a neutral spine. Never sacrifice form just to add more weight or repetitions.

Let us know if you’ve tried weight training, and what it’s like for you – either below or on Diabetic South Africans on Facebook.Photo by Danielle Cerullo on Unsplash

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Sweet Life is a registered NPO/PBO (220-984) with a single goal: to improve diabetes in South Africa. We are funded by sponsorships and donations from aligned companies and organisations who believe in our work. We only share information that we believe benefits our community. While some of this information is linked to specific brands, it is not an official endorsement of that brand. We believe in empowering people with diabetes to make the best decisions they can, to live a healthy, happy life with diabetes.