In 1985 only about thirty million people worldwide suffered from type 2 diabetes. By 2010 that number grew to over 285 million, which is almost equivalent to the entire population of the United States. This shows a disturbing trend. Diabetes and its bastard cousin obesity are two of the largest health problems in America today. While we’ve known for years that regular aerobic exercise helps prevent diabetes, the role of resistance training has been less clear. Today’s study published in PLOS Medicine shows quite definitively that resistance training of any type can help prevent diabetes.
Researchers examined data from a long-term study of nurses in the United States. The study followed almost 100,000 female nurses for eight years. The women recorded their daily activities in great detail, including any exercise they did. The results show that any type of resistance exercise decreased the likelihood of developing diabetes.
The researchers defined resistance exercise very loosely. The way this study was conducted, any type of muscle-strengthening routine that wasn’t aerobic exercise was counted as resistance exercise. That means yoga, pilates, bodybuilding, strength training, weightlifting, and CrossFit were all classified under the same category. That’s great news, because it means the resistance exercise necessary to prevent diabetes can come from almost any activity.
Before you get out the pitchforks, remember that we’re talking about exercise as a goal to prevent disease. Nobody is saying that all those activities will achieve the same physical results. But it appears they could all be equally effective in simply preventing diabetes.
The study also revealed that more resistance exercise resulted in less risk of diabetes, but the big drop in risk came after just 1.5 hours per week. So a person who performs weight training for seven hours per week is more protected than someone training for only 1.5 hours per week, but not by much. The person who exercises just for disease prevention gets much more bang for her buck from about ninety minutes of resistance training.
The study also showed that the ultimate protection came from both aerobic exercise and resistance training combined. So programs that involve both types of training might be most effective. Interestingly, the most risk reduction from aerobic exercise alone came after 2.5 hours per week.
So what do we learn from this study? First, resistance training in any form helps prevent diabetes. Second, the best protection comes from combining resistance training with aerobic exercise. So when someone asks you about the best way to exercise for general health, don’t make them believe there is only one way that works, to the exclusion of all others. This study shows that general health and disease prevention can be achieved with a variety of different programs. The best program appears to be the one that will stick.
1. Anders Grontved, et al. Muscle-Strengthening and Conditioning Activities and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes: A Prospective Study in Two Cohorts of US Women. PLOS Medicine. Published: January 14, 2014. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1001587
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