To many people, especially women, weight training can seem intimidating (thank all the meatheads grunting their way through set after set of bicep curls at the gym). But time and again, research has proven that lifting weights has many health benefits, and a new study suggests that doing so can reduce the risk of diabetes significantly.
The study, conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Denmark, found that weight training has huge benefits in the prevention of type 2 diabetes, which affects 25.8 million US children and adults; it’s the most common form of the disease.
“Until now, previous studies have reported that aerobic exercise is of major importance for type 2 diabetes prevention,” said study author Anders Grøntved. However, he notes that for those who have a hard time doing aerobic exercise, weight training can be a helpful alternative.
For 18 years, the study followed 508 US men who were at risk for type 2 diabetes. The men filled out questionnaires on how much time they spent engaging in weight training and aerobic exercise, such as walking, jogging, bicycling, and swimming.
The results were significant: Men who performed either weight training or aerobic exercise for at least 150 minutes per week lowered their risk of type 2 diabetes by 34 percent and 52 percent, respectively.
Even better: Men who did both aerobic exercise and weight training for at least 150 minutes a week reduced their risks of developing type 2 diabetes by 59 percent.
The bonus of including weight training into one’s fitness regimen is that it can improve glycemic control in patients with type 2 diabetes, even without aerobic training, researchers noted. It’s also worth noting that the men who reported weight training at least 150 minutes a week also reported doing more aerobic exercise, watching less television, drinking less alcohol, and eating healthier than men who didn’t lift weights.
While the results are potentially good news for those at risk for type 2 diabetes, there are some obvious limitations to the study. Only men—mostly Caucasian—were involved, so the findings may not relate to women or other racial groups. In addition, the researchers did not analyze the type and intensity of weight training among the participants.
Still, with more research, the results show promise. “These results support that weight training is a valuable alternative for individuals who have difficulty adhering to aerobic exercise,” researchers wrote. “Adding weight training to aerobic exercise seems to give further protection from [type 2 diabetes].”
It’s recommended that people with type 2 diabetes do resistance training three times per week.
The full study was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.