Dr Dillner's health dilemmas: can lifting weights prevent diabetes?

The Olympics has got us excited about less mainstream sports, such as weightlifting, according to the International Weightlifting Federation. An IWF spokesman commented: "Weightlifting has recaptured British people's hearts after a very long time." But rather than just watch it, research says we should be taking up weightlifting ourselves. A new paper in the Archives of Internal Medicine by Harvard School of Public Health shows that pumping iron five times a week can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by a third.

Diabetes is common: one in 20 people now have it in the UK. Type 2 is the most common and affects mostly middle aged and older people. It is due to a lack of insulin, either because the pancreas stops making enough or the cells in the body become resistant to it. If uncontrolled, it can reduce life expectancy (for example through heart or kidney failure) by up to 10 years.

A poor diet and lack of exercise can increase the chances of getting type 2 diabetes. But what's so special about doing weightlifting rather than jogging?

The solution

The study looked at 32,000 men who are part of ongoing analysis – so it does not necessarily mean weightlifting reduces the risk in women but is likely to. It also showed aerobic exercise of any sort reduced the risk, but a combination with weights worked better. One advantage of weightlifting is that you don't have to be fit to do it, whereas many people find aerobic exercise hard to do.

Weightlifting, if done properly, should increase muscle mass in as little as eight weeks. Other studies have suggested that for people at a high risk of diabetes, weight training increases the amount of muscle in the body, and also reduces the levels of plasma-free fatty acids. It has also been shown that weight training can control (ie lower) blood sugar levels of people who already have diabetes. Researchers in one study found that lifting weights regularly (45 minutes three times a week on machines), reduced blood sugar levels by 1%, resulting in up to a 20% reduction in heart attacks and strokes.

But weight training may have benefits beyond reducing the risks of diabetes. Muscle mass decreases with age, and while aerobic exercise is good for many things, it does not build muscle. Having strong muscles protects your joints from injury, and also aids balance and weight control. Lifting weights (free or on a machine) also strengthens bones and improves your stamina.

To avoid injury, start by warming up, then lift a weight you can handle and repeat for up to 15 times, in a controlled and steady way. Ask for advice on how to do it at a local gym. Have a day of rest between exercising muscle groups. You can gradually build up the weights once you can do more than 15 repetitions easily. Then book your place at Rio 2016.

Thanks to guardian.co.uk who have provided this article. View the original here.


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