My Go-to Tips If You’re Newly-Diagnosed With Type 2 Diabetes

If you were to ask what has most boosted my diabetes care and body image over the years with type 2 diabetes, you might be surprised by my answer. While following a low-carb vegetarian diet has certainly helped, along with taking my medications religiously, monitoring my blood sugars, and getting regular cardio exercise, I’ve achieved the most impressive results from lifting weights. 

If my answer puzzles you, know that scientific studies back me up. Sustained resistance training, done one to three times a week on non-consecutive days, not only lowers blood sugar but can improve insulin resistance (where insulin is prevented from entering cells, resulting in increased glucose in the bloodstream). But that’s not all. Pumping iron can also strengthen the heart, reduce fat (particularly around the abdomen), strengthen your bones, and turn you into a young Arnold Schwarzenegger (well, not really). 

Two caveats: For some people with diabetes, lifting heavy weights may temporarily cause blood sugars to rise, in part because adrenaline spikes might boost sugars. So it’s a good idea to test your sugars before and after a workout and, if needed, talk to your doctor about any adjustments you might need to make in your medications or diet. And, as with any exercise, if you have diabetes complications, including neuropathy or heart issues, speak to your endocrinologist before embarking on a weightlifting routine.

If you’re a woman worrying about becoming the Incredible Hulk, set that aside. Without the testosterone punch of men, my well-toned biceps are firm but not bulging, although I do have impressive calf muscles. Depending on how much weight they lift, even men may not end up with a vaunted six-pack. When it comes to bulking up, much depends on genes. 

But to me, health benefits trump perfectly chiseled pecs. Below are some helpful tips: 

  1. Join an in-person or online class. Learning to lift weights isn’t hard, but correct form is vital. Luckily, there are a wide variety of YouTube videos (many free) that can demonstrate everything from protecting your knees when you squat to how to engage your core. Most gyms offer beginning weightlifting classes or even a few free introductory one-on-one sessions with a personal trainer. 
  2. Take your time. Ironman was not built in a day. Overdoing the amount of weight or performing too many repetitions too early can translate into sore muscles or even serious injury. Go slow and remind yourself you’re in it for the long haul. 
  3. Check your sugars. As noted above, there is a risk of higher sugars when you lift. Because nothing about diabetes is predictable, I’ve registered several lows after working out with weights. Noting sugars before, after, and during a workout (particularly when you’re beginning or adding additional weight) can alert you to any problems. Keep glucose tablets or a high-carb snack at hand, and, as with any activity that involves exertion, stay well-hydrated.
  4. Keep it simple. Lifting weights requires a soft mat and something to lift. This can mean a beach towel or a yoga mat. Purchased weights aren’t necessary – canned produce or empty plastic milk jugs filled with sand can suffice. A broomstick can make a good practice barbell. (Did you think the original Hercules had spiffy Nautilus equipment?)
  5. Consider mixing it up. If you’ve been doing machines at a gym, give free weights a try. Or vice versa. For women, remember that most weight machines are sized for men, and free weights may be easier to tailor to your needs. 

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