Why YOU Should Lift Weights to Stop Prediabetes

dumbellsAre you prediabetic or do you know someone with prediabetes or excess “stomach fat?” You should know that not only aerobic exercise, what many people call “cardio,” but also some good old-fashioned weightlifting is like medicine for stopping prediabetes and warding off full-blown type 2 diabetes and its nasty side effects.

First off, before using exercise as medicine, you should get a medical clearance from your doctor, and start slowly. Slow and steady wins the race; quick and fast just won’t last.

As a foot and ankle specialist, I see patients with diabetes and pre-diabetes every day. Many of my patients know that walking is helpful for diabetes as well as cardiovascular health, weight control, and blood sugar levels, however most people only think about weightlifting as a way of “having big muscles.” I hope YOU do not think this way. If you do, you need to STOP it, if you want to achieve a metabolism that will stop prediabetes.

Just like drugs taken for diabetes, medical research has shown that exercise in general has many benefits for pre-diabetics and diabetics alike including:

• Lower glycosylated hemoglobin (HbA1c) levels. Hemoglobin is what carries oxygen through your bloodstream. An HbA1c level is a measurement that reflects how much of your hemoglobin has glucose sugar attached to it. This is one of the tests that can give you an early warning that you may have pre-diabetes. If your HbA1c is 5.7% or greater, you need to be concerned about your blood sugar level and pre-diabetes. People with elevated blood sugar levels get more sugar stuck on their hemoglobin. Having sugar stuck to your hemoglobin, and other proteins in your body, is not a good thing. It literally “gums up” your system.

• Improved insulin sensitivity. One of the main problems found in metabolic syndrome and prediabetes is a decreased ability for insulin to work as it is supposed to. Because of this, it takes more insulin to get blood sugar out of the blood and into your muscles and elsewhere.

• Beneficial effects on inflammation. Inflammation wreaks havoc on health in a silent way. It is associated with reduced insulin sensitivity.

• Beneficial effects on blood pressure. High blood pressure damages your circulation, including the very delicate circulation of the kidneys.

• Beneficial effects on endothelial function. The “endothelium” refers to the cells lining your blood vessels. These cells help control how healthy your blood circulation is, among many other aspects of your health. (1)

How much exercise is enough to stop prediabetes?

20 minutes per day to stop prediabetesAny amount is better than nothing, but the current recommended exercise guidelines say you should get 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity exercise. As I’m sure you figured out, this is about 20 minutes per day, however, once your level of fitness improves, you can decrease the 150 minutes by increasing the intensity of your exercise-movement activity. Shorter bouts of exercise at a higher intensity are actually better to stop prediabetes, but getting to this point takes time. Your mission to fix your metabolism and stop prediabetes is a process, not an event.

Regarding walking exercise, I have previously posted on how many steps per day it takes before seeing an impact on metabolism sufficient to help stop prediabetes and prevent full-blown diabetes along with its often life changing complications.


Benefits of Resistance “Weightlifting” Exercise for Prediabetics and Others?

Some form of weightlifting needs to be part of YOUR weekly exercise movement time. You do not necessarily have to join a gym. You can use exercise bands, or homemade weights. Get creative. Milk jugs filled with water or sand can serve as a form of resistance if you do not have access to conventional weights. Send us your ideas for homemade weights – we will be sure to pass them along to the Nutrientology family.

Many exercise movements can also be done using your own body weight as the source of resistance. For example, the simple push-up we learned as youngsters is a great body weight resistance exercise. Vary how far you space your hands for better results. Learn how to do this simple movement well, along with “deep knee bends” without much rest in between, and you will be on your way to a healthier metabolism that will ward off diabetes and its medical complications including the severe foot problems I see all too often.

As you become better able to do these movements, you can push the intensity, and improve your metabolism even more. One way of doing this is to use these two exercises in a Tabata sequence. Here’s a good YouTube video demonstration of this. Check it out…

Resistance exercise-movements will give you a functional strong life and a more positive outlook towards your mission to stop prediabetes and metabolic syndrome. When you feel stronger and more sure-footed, you will live your life with more optimism and self-esteem. You will be more confident that you will get where you want to go and have an independent future well into your senior years.

If that’s not enough for you, consider the following:

Resistance training may assist in the prevention and management of prediabetes and type 2 diabetes by:

• Decreasing visceral fat. This is the unhealthy fat in the stomach area. This fat leaches out harmful chemicals that prevents your insulin from working well. Decreased visceral fat means decreased inflammation, and less insulin resistance. This is the number one thing YOU need to accomplish if you want to stop prediabetes.

• Reducing HbA1c and other glycosylated damaged proteins. This “sugar damage” can occur in the brain and contribute to cognitive decline as we age – having less sticky “sugary” hemoglobin and other proteins necessary for life is a good thing.

• Improving insulin sensitivity to get your blood sugar down after you eat.

• Increasing the amount of glucose transporter type 4 (GLUT4). Sorry, I know, probably a bit too scientific, but GLUT4 works with insulin to move blood sugar into your muscles. You do not want increased levels of glucose-sugar staying in your bloodstream. The sooner you can get sugar out of your blood and into your muscles, the better. People who do not eat in a way that surges blood sugar, and can get sugar out of their blood, stop prediabetes and do not get diabetes. (2)

In addition to helping your metabolism, resistance training also supports cardiovascular health by:

• Reducing resting blood pressure – as most readers know, high blood pressure is a component of metabolic syndrome.

• Decreasing low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) and triglycerides

• Increasing high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C) – low HDL-C is a component of prediabetes-metabolic syndrome. (2)

Don’t get me wrong, endurance aerobic cardio-exercise is also important to stop prediabetes and to help diabetes .


Researchers have actually looked at and compared the diabetes benefits of:

  • Just aerobic-cardio exercise
  • Just weightlifting exercise
  • Both aerobic-cardio + weightlifting exercise

They looked at over 32,000 men from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study from 1990 to 2008.

They looked at how much time these men spent on weight training and aerobic exercise. The aerobic exercises included:

• brisk walking
• jogging
• running
• bicycling
• swimming
• tennis
• squash
• calisthenics/rowing

They found that the more time people spent on weight training or aerobic exercise, the lower their risk of type 2 diabetes, and when they did both, their diabetes risk was even lower.

  • The men who did weight training had a 34% lower risk of T2DM
  • The men who did aerobic exercise had a 52% lower risk
  • The men who did both aerobic exercise and weight training had a 59% lower risk.

Some people don’t care for endurance exercise and some don’t like weightlifting. You can do mostly what you like and less of the exercise-movements that you don’t like, but try to mix it up. It is best to have a varied approach.

The researchers concluded:

Weight training was associated with a significantly lower risk of T2DM, independent of aerobic exercise. Combined weight training and aerobic exercise conferred a greater benefit.” (3)

building muscle is like putting money in the bank for future metabolic healthWhat this study did not take into account is the ongoing benefits of resistance training by way of increased muscle health and development. The big benefit of resistance weightlifting exercise lies in the muscle development it produces. As you develop your muscles, it is like putting money in the bank that will earn future interest. Muscle controls and adjusts your metabolism. Muscle continues to benefit your metabolism well into the future, as long as you continue to use them.

They also provide better physical functional ability. This is especially important for the feet and legs. It is strong functional feet and legs that will enable you to live an independent life into your senior years. Strong functional legs mean no nursing home for YOU.

The study comparing aerobic versus resistance exercise mentioned above did not look at higher intensity resistance training. To make a significant impact on your metabolism you may need to progress to this form of exercise if you are medically able. Researchers have looked at older type 2 diabetics and found that true beneficial changes in metabolism occur only with high-intensity exercise. Other studies have found that body composition changes brought about by exercise, other than through resistance training will improve metabolism. The key is to increase muscle and reduce belly fat, regardless of the exercise approach you take.

Also, YOUR metabolism is not likely as damaged as the elderly type 2 diabetics in the study above, so do not think you need to whack yourself with a high-intensity program right out of the box. Let’s work up to it.


Weight training increases blood flow to the feet and legs more than aerobic exercise.

Endurance cardio-exercise also does not develop strength or cause as much of an increased blood flow response to the feet and legs when compared to resistance style exercise.

You guessed it, researchers have compared the leg circulation and blood pressure benefits of resistance versus aerobic exercise.   Resistance exercise produced greater increases in blood flow to the limbs, while aerobic exercise did benefit blood vessels by reducing their stiffness, it did this without an increase in blood flow. Resistance exercise did both, and also led to a longer-lasting decrease in blood pressure after exercise, compared to aerobic exercise.

They concluded,

Resistance exercise produces greater increases in limb blood flow and augments post exercise hypotension more at 40 minutes post exercise when compared to aerobic exercise.” (4)

The large muscles of the feet and legs have a large impact on your health. In addition to the metabolism benefits you get from simply having these muscles moving you around, these muscles are essentially your heart’s first assistant. When your legs muscles contract they move blood to your heart and help your heart to more effectively move blood throughout your body. The function of your heart is connected to your flexing leg muscles for locomotion.

leg press is a good resistance exercise

Like most other things, even with exercise and physical activity, you can engage in too much of a good thing – best health benefits are observed in people who are moderately active.


Weightlifting and Aging

Studies have shown that exercise can lower the risk of death among diabetic patients, but as I have said in other posts that use mortality as an endpoint, “who cares?”  I say that only somewhat facetiously to make a point. Yes, it’s great to live a long life, assuming it is a healthy one, but what about the benefits to your life in the here-and-now.

In addition to the prediabetes benefits of weightlifting I have listed above, benefits of resistance exercise-movement in the here-and-now include:

  • Improved physical performance
  • Better control of body movement
  • Good walking speed
  • Functional independence
  • Improved cognitive abilities – “brain power”
  • Higher self-esteem

man with walkerHaving said that, when looking to the future…many of you know one of the recurring themes at Nutrientology is how to age well so you can live a functional independent lifestyle into your senior years. Our goal is to keep you out of the nursing home. Inactive adults consistently undergo a steady loss of muscle as they age, along with a decreased rate of metabolism and an increase in body fat. This is what contributes to the development of diabetes and its potentially life-changing complications…no thanks.

This does not have to be you. Even after 2-3 months of resistance training exercise YOU can increase lean muscle, increase YOUR resting metabolic rate, and reduce YOUR belly fat.

As I have said before, but it bears repeating, the scale…fuggedaboutit. If your pants falling down from your waist becoming smaller is not enough, and you want a number, measure your waistline. This is one of the most important measures as to whether you will improve your metabolism and stop prediabetes.

In patients with type 2 diabetes, a reduction in central adiposity and increase in fitness were the most prominent predictors of the change in HbA1c in response to exercise training.” (5)

Just because your scale may be showing an acceptable number does not mean you are healthy, and prepared to live an independent functional life well into your senior years. How much muscle do you have in the bank?

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About Robert Creighton

Dr. Creighton is a podiatrist and foot surgeon with over 26 years in podiatric practice treating thousands of patients afflicted with the physiological, physical, and psychological side effects and complications of diabetes and pre-diabetes metabolic syndrome. He believes these disorders present a pressing public health concern that need to be more actively addressed in a multidisciplinary way. Dr. Creighton graduated from what is now the Temple University School of Podiatric Medicine after receiving his undergraduate degree in Biology. He is certified by the American Board of Foot and Ankle Surgery, a member of the American Public Health Association, an American College of Sports Medicine certified personal trainer and a Member of the American Nutrition Association.

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