Weight training is associated with a wide variety of health benefits, from increased strength and stamina to joint flexibility and higher bone density. Now a large, long-term study suggests it can significantly reduce the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
The study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, followed more than 32,000 men from 1990 to 2008. Participants were asked about their physical activity, including how much time they spent each week on weight training. After adjusting for factors like alcohol and coffee intake, smoking, ethnicity, family history of diabetes and dietary factors, researchers found men who lifted weights regularly (30 minutes per day, five days per week) reduced their risk of Type 2 diabetes by 34%.
Aerobic exercise has long been associated with reducing Type 2 diabetes risk, and this study supports those findings. Participants who got at least 150 minutes of aerobic exercise each week dropped their risk by 52%.
The important finding here, researchers say, is that patients who struggle to stick with an aerobic exercise program might be able to turn to weight lifting for similar risk reduction results.
“Until now, previous studies have reported that aerobic exercise is of major importance for Type 2 diabetes prevention,” lead author Anders Grøntved, visiting researcher in the Department of Nutrition at HSPH and a doctoral student in exercise epidemiology at the University of Southern Denmark said in a press release. “But many people have difficulty engaging in or adhering to aerobic exercise. These new results suggest that weight training, to a large extent, can serve as an alternative to aerobic exercise for Type 2 diabetes prevention.”
Of course, as you might imagine, combining aerobic exercise and weight training produced the best results. Men who did more than 150 minutes of aerobics and at least 150 minutes of weight lifting each week reduced their Type 2 diabetes risk by a whopping 59%.
Even if you’re not ready to carve out 300 minutes of time to exercise each week, the benefits still apply. Weight training for an hour or less each week reduced Type 2 diabetes risk by 12%. Men who spent between 60 and 149 minutes weight training reduced their risk by 25% when compared with men who did not lift weights.
Less than an hour of aerobic exercise per week reduced participants’ risk by 7%, but jumped to a 31% risk reduction when the men spent between 60 and 149 minutes in an aerobic workout.
“This study provides clear evidence that weight training has beneficial effects on diabetes risk over and above aerobic exercise,” said Frank Hu, senior author and professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health. “To achieve the best results for diabetes prevention, resistance training can be incorporated with aerobic exercise.”