Here’s how much strength training to do to reduce your risk of diabetes

Photo credit: Drazen_ - Getty Images
Photo credit: Drazen_ - Getty Images

From Runner's World

  • New research from the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings shows that having a moderate amount of muscle strength can lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 32 percent.

  • It’s important to incorporate strength training-like lunges, squats, or bench presses-into your training at least two days a week.

You’ve heard it before: Strength training a few days a week will help build the muscle you need to become a stronger, faster runner. But a new study shows that lifting on the regular has a larger impact on your overall health, specifically when it comes to type 2 diabetes.

The study, published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings, included 4,681 adults who didn’t have type 2 diabetes at its start in 1981. From 1981 until 2006, participants took part in muscular strength tests and maximal treadmill exercise tests. (For strength testing, participants had to determine and then bench press their one-rep max and their seated leg press one-rep max.)

After following up with participants about eight years after they underwent the exercise tests, researchers found that only 4.9 percent had type 2 diabetes. What’s more, participants with a medium level of muscular strength were 32 percent less likely to develop the disease than those with a low level of muscular strength. However, those with high levels of muscular strength didn’t show a risk reduction in diabetes-but they didn’t show an increased risk, either.

Study coauthor Angelique Brellenthin, Ph.D., a postdoctoral research associate at Iowa State University’s kinesiology department, told Runner’s World that this study supports the idea that “muscular strength is important for maintaining metabolic health”-which is when things like your blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure are all at normal levels.

The study states that strength training helps maintain or increase lean body mass, which improves your body’s ability to control your blood sugar levels and reduce body fat-which “has been associated with insulin resistance,” where your body doesn’t respond to insulin like it should. (Being insulin resistant also increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.)

So you know that having a medium level of muscle strength is key-but how exactly can you tell what that even is? Unfortunately, researchers don’t have a concrete answer.

“Naturally, people want to know where they stand relative to others in terms of muscular strength and if they are strong enough to get health benefits,” Brellenthin said. “But it’s difficult at this time to provide recommendations to the general public on what the appropriate or beneficial amount of muscular strength might be.”

However, she notes that everyone can benefit from strength training, even at a basic level.

“Increasing or maintaining muscular strength does not need be complicated,” she said. “The physical activity guidelines for muscle-strengthening activities are to engage in these activities two times per week, and to hit all your major muscle groups. Beginners can see improvements in strength with simple at-home bodyweight exercises like squats, lunges, push-ups, and core exercises. As you gain strength, you can consider adding extra tools like elastic bands, machine weights, or free weights.”

The bottom line? You don’t need to be as strong as Arnold Schwarzenegger in his Pumping Iron days to help reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes.

“Performing even a small amount of resistance training, which is a main contributor to muscular strength, may provide big benefits,” Brellenthin said.