When it comes to preventing type 2 diabetes, studies have shown that a healthy diet and aerobic exercise—like jogging, brisk walking or swimming--can reduce your risk. But what if you have difficulty engaging in or adhering to an aerobic exercise routine?
A new study finds that lifting weights may be a good alternative. Researchers determined that weight training can reduce the risk of diabetes in men up to 34%. However, if you combine weight training and aerobic exercise, they found you can reduce your risk even further—up to 59%.
Finding more ways to stem the rising rates of type 2 diabetes is a growing public health concern as 346 million people worldwide have type 2 diabetes and diabetes-related deaths are expected to double between 2005 and 2030.
In the U.S., older Americans have the highest rates of the disease. Currently 26.9% of people 65 and older have diabetes and another 50% have prediabetes.
The study, which was conducted by researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and the University of Southern Denmark, followed 32,002 men from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study from 1990 to 2008. Information on how much time the men spent each week on weight training and aerobic exercise came from questionnaires they filled out every two years.
The researchers accounted for other types of physical activity, television viewing, alcohol and coffee intake, smoking, ethnicity, family history of diabetes, and a number of dietary factors.
During the study period, there were 2,278 new cases of diabetes among the men followed.
Men who engaged in even a modest amount of weight training experienced a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes compared to men who did not lift weights. And the benefits increased with longer weight lifting sessions:
- 1 to 59 minutes of weight training reduced the risk of diabetes by 12%
- between 60 and 149 minutes reduced the risk by 25%
- 150 minutes or more reduced diabetes risk by 34%.
The researchers also calculated the benefits of aerobic exercise and found it reduced the risk of type 2 diabetes by 7%, 31%, and 52%, respectively, for the same three categories above.
“This study provides clear evidence that weight training has beneficial effects on diabetes risk over and above aerobic exercise, which are likely to be mediated through increased muscle mass and improved insulin sensitivity,” said senior author Frank Hu of HSPH. “To achieve the best results for diabetes prevention, resistance training can be incorporated with aerobic exercise.”
Further research is needed to confirm the results of the study as well as to analyze whether or not the findings apply to women.
Harvard School of Public Health