Weight Lifting Reduces the Risk of Developing Type 2 Diabetes

by Dr Sam Girgis on August 7, 2012

Diabetes mellitus is a metabolic disorder in which blood sugar levels become unregulated and markedly elevated.  This can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, renal disease, dementia, and many other disorders.  As of 2010, there is estimated to be 285 million people worldwide with the disorder.  As a result of the obesity epidemic in the United States and other countries, the incidence of diabetes in expected to increase.  It is estimated that by 2030 the incidence of diabetes may double if preventative measures are not implemented today.  It is well known that aerobic exercise can help with the control of blood sugar levels in diabetes.  In addition, we have recently discussed that weight loss through behavioral dietary modification can prevent the progression to diabetes from glucose intolerance.

Researchers, lead by Dr. Frank Hu from the Harvard School of Public Health, have found that regular weight training and lifting can help decrease the risk of developing type 2 diabetes in men.  The results of their study were published online in the Archives of Internal Medicine.  The researchers sought to investigate the role of weight training in the primary prevention of type 2 diabetes by performing a prospective cohort study of 32,002 men enrolled in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study.  The study participants were followed between the years of 1990 and 2008 and were questioned at baseline and biennially regarding their weekly participation in both weight training and aerobic exercises.  During the eighteen year period, 2,278 new cases of diabetes were diagnosed.  The researchers found that there was a direct relationship between weight training and reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes.  Participants who engaged in 150 minutes of weight training per week had 34% less risk of developing diabetes.  Those that engaged in aerobic exercise had 52% less risk of developing diabetes.  The risk of developing diabetes was reduced by 59% when the study participants performed both weight lifting and aerobic exercise.

The authors wrote, “In this large prospective cohort study with biannual follow-up for 18 years, men who engaged in weight training had a reduced risk of [type 2 diabetes]. The association was independent of aerobic exercise, and even a modest amount of time engaged in weight training seemed to be beneficial.  The risk reduction associated with weight training was comparable in magnitude with that of aerobic exercise, with risk reductions of approximately 35% and 50%, respectively, in men performing at least 150 minutes per week of either weight training or aerobic exercise. These results support that weight training serves as an important alternative for individuals who have difficulty adhering to aerobic exercise, but the combination of weight training with aerobic exercise conferred an even greater benefit”.

This study adds to the existing evidence that aerobic exercise can decrease the risk of developing and even reversing diabetes.  Instead of aerobic exercise, weight lifting can now be considered as an alternative to help decrease the risk of developing diabetes.  We have previously discussed that building muscle mass decreases insulin resistance.  This is most likely the mechanism behind the clinical observation in this prospective cohort study.  Future studies should evaluate the effect of weight lifting duration and intensity upon the risk of developing diabetes.  In addition, determining whether these results are also applicable to women should be investigated.



Anders Grontved et al. “A Prospective Study of Weight Training and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus in MenArch Intern Med published online August 6, 2012 doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2012.3138

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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