Many people want to know the best exercise to…fill in the blank. They would like to know the best exercise program to lose weight, prevent type 2 diabetes or keep their brains functioning. All the experts we have consulted over the last few decades insist that there is no one best exercise for everyone. Just moving your body is the key to success. If you like to walk, great. If biking or swimming is your thing, great! Should you prefer tennis or dancing, double great!! You may wish to listen to our free podcast about best exercise here and find out about ballroom dancing vs. dementia). Here is a fascinating new study that suggests resistance exercise (RE) or resistance training (RT) to build muscular strength can be protective against type 2 diabetes (T2D) (Mayo Clinic Proceedings, online, March, 2019).
What is Resistance Exercise or Resistance Training?
Muscular strength is a key factor in heart health. That is to say, people who are stronger are less likely to develop heart disease or die from heart trouble (Journal of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation and Prevention, Nov-Dec., 2012). The authors of this paper report:
“To conclude, RT [resistance training] must be considered in addition to aerobic exercise in the prevention and treatment of CVD [cardiovascular disease], since both MusS [muscular strength] and CRF [cardiorespiratory fitness] may provide unique benefits. In fact, RT might be a more attractive type of exercise for overweight and obese individuals, who are at a higher risk of developing CVD and who may be averse to aerobic exercise.”
Resistance training, strength training or resistance exercise is a way to build muscular strength and endurance. It involves muscular contractions, usually against some sort of resistance. Imagine lifting a can of beans with your left hand 25 times. That is resistance exercise. Lifting a dumbbell does the same thing. Pulling on a strong rubber exercise band is also resistance training. So is using exercise equipment at a gym.
When you use exercise equipment (or lift a can of beans 25 times in a row) you challenge your muscle cells. Microscopic changes in those cells lead to repair and regrowth. That leads to enhanced strength. As we age, we naturally lose muscle. Resistance training can slow that process.
The New Study in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings:
A new study suggests that you can lower your risk for type 2 diabetes with resistance training. Over 4600 adults between the ages of 20 and 100 years were recruited from the Cooper Clinic in Dallas, Texas. None of them had type 2 diabetes at the beginning of the study.
Most prior research on the best exercise to protect against type 2 diabetes has relied upon “self-reported evaluation of resistance exercise.” This is an unreliable way to determine the impact of muscular strength on health outcomes.
The Results of Resistance Exercise:
These investigators had their volunteers actually perform leg presses and bench presses on resistance weight machines to measure muscular strength. During the eight-year follow-up period, approximately 5% of the volunteers were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
Those with lower muscle strength were more likely to develop this metabolic condition. People with middle level muscular strength were 32% less likely to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Moderate resistance training may be an important addition to a regular exercise regimen. We can’t say it is the absolute best exercise program, but it may well be an important adjunct to any well-designed personalized program. Learn why your doctor should write you a personalized exercise prescription by listening to our podcast with Dr. Jordan Metzl at this link.
Why Would Muscular Strength Be Protective?
The authors of the Mayo Clinic Proceedings study report:
“Because muscular strength is partially determined by RE [resistance exercise], the protective effect of moderate muscular strength against T2D [type 2 diabetes] may be due to the benefits of RE. In fact, RE helps maintain or increase lean body mass, which improves glycemic [blood glucose] control by augmenting skeletal muscle storage of glucose. Other effects reported for RE may include reducing visceral adiposity [belly fat], which has been associated with insulin resistance.”
An intriguing finding was that the highest level of upper body strength was not associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. In other words, moderation may be the key to success. The researchers report that:
“Emerging data suggest that greater amounts of aerobic exercise may not yield additional health benefits. Similar to aerobic exercise, long-term excessive RE may cause pathologic structural changes.”
“In this study, we found that moderate muscular strength, but not upper muscular strength, was associated with a reduced risk of development of T2D independent of estimated CRF [cardiorespiratory fitness]. These results indicate that very high levels of RE [resistance exercise] training may not be necessary to obtain the considerable health benefits on T2D [type 2 diabetes] prevention.”
What Exercise Do You Do?
Share your exercise experience in the comment section below. What do you stick with? Have you found that dancing helps your brain? What about strength training? Is that something you find helpful?