While any exercise is better than no exercise in managing type 2 diabetes, a new study indicates that the combination of aerobic exercise and weight training is significantly better for controlling blood sugar than either alone. That’s what a new study published in the Sept. 18 issue of the journal Annals of Internal Medicine found. Time.com reported last week some of the interesting findings:
The elegantly designed study, led by researchers at the University of Calgary and the University of Ottawa, involved 251 patients aged 39 to 70, with type 2 diabetes. The patients, none of whom were regular exercisers, were randomized to one of four groups: aerobic exercise, resistance training, a combination of both, or none. For 22 weeks, the aerobic group worked out for 45 minutes three times a week on the treadmill or stationary bicycle; the resistance-training group spent an equal amount of time on weight machines.
The combination group was at the gym twice as long as the other two exercise groups, doing the full aerobic plus weight-training regimens. “We built up gradually to 45 minutes, but it’s certainly vigorous,” says Dr. Ronald Sigal, lead author of the study and associate professor of medicine and cardiac sciences at the University of Calgary. “It’s not sprinting or maximal exercise like a marathon trainer would do, but for someone who’s middle-aged and older and very overweight, it’s fairly strenuous.”
Overall, researchers saw improvements in blood-sugar control in all the patients who worked out. Compared with controls, patients in the aerobic group had a reduction of .51% in their hemoglobin A1C values — a test that measures blood-sugar control over the previous two to three months (lower is better). The weight-training group had a .38% reduction compared with controls. But the combined exercise group showed further improvements: in those patients, the A1C values went down an additional .46% over the aerobic group, and .59% over the weight-training group. Compared to controls, the combo exercisers had a nearly 1% lower A1C reading.
The benefits of a 1% reduction may seem small, but they aren’t: that percentage translates into a 15-20% decrease in heart attack and stroke risk and a 25-40% decreased risk of diabetes-associated eye or kidney problems. Wow!
And there’s more good news. Across all three groups, data indicated that exercise in general could improve blood pressure, triglyceride and cholesterol levels in people with type 2 diabetes. The various exercises also resulted in some healthy weight loss and a reduction in belly fat — even though the diets patients were put on were specifically designed for maintaining weight. Furthermore, cat scans of patients’ internal muscles seem to indicate an improvement in internal structure and function.
At the very least, if you need to manage your diabetes, any exercise will have a positive effect, but if you want to maximize the health benefits, an exercise program which includes both resistance training and aerobic exercise is the most effective at controlling type 2 diabetes and improving diabetes and weight loss outcomes.