Build Muscle to Burn Sugar

Build Muscle and Burn Sugar


There has been a lot of research on the effects of cardiovascular endurance exercise and reducing the risk of diabetes as well as controlling type two diabetes symptoms.  Doctors now routinely advise their patients with type two diabetes or pre-diabetes to exercise by doing things like brisk walking three to five days a week.

And that’s great!  Walking is great!  Much, much better than sitting…  but if all you do is cardiovascular exercise it will get harder and harder to control your blood sugar levels.  Even if you increase your intensity.

That’s because without regular strength training you WILL lose muscle mass.  An average of 5% every decade.  And this is a problem if you are already struggling with your blood sugar levels.

Muscle runs on sugar.  When you walk, your muscles contract, and sugar gets used up.  But walking doesn’t build new muscle tissue.  It’s not hard enough.  In order to get the body to build more muscle you have to ask it lift something it almost can’t lift.  This challenging resistance provides the stimulus to create more muscle instead of breaking it down.  So strength training is the key to maintaining or even building more muscle that will keep burning up that sugar.

As a bonus, muscle tissue has a way to pull sugar out of the blood, even if your insulin sensitivity is low.  Normally, you need insulin to get the sugar from your blood stream into the cell.  If your insulin sensitivity is low, that means that even when there is plenty of insulin around, you still can’t get the sugar out of the blood because you cells are not “sensitive” to insulin anymore.  Muscle cells that are working hard use a totally different molecule called GLUT4 to pull sugar out of the blood – so once again – more muscle means lower blood sugar!

A study in 2010 studied over 300 people with type two diabetes in four groups: no exercise, just cardio, just resistance, and both for seven months.  No surprise, the group that did no exercise had a slight increase in A1c.  A1c is like a long term measure of your blood sugar levels – not just how high they are right now, but how much they have spiked over the past three months.  The exercising groups all saw a reduction in A1c, but only the combo group had a significant decrease.  The most interesting thing to me was that while both of the groups doing resistance work reduced body fat, the group doing only cardio did NOT reduce body fat, but DID reduce weight….  If they didn’t lose fat, this means they actually lost muscle mass.  The study was only seven months, but I suspect that these subjects would start having a more difficult time controlling their blood sugar as time went on…

A new study out this year followed over 7000 people over 19 years.  They did all sorts of tests on them including body composition and A1c and the subjects gave reports of their exercise behaviors.  By now you probably know how I feel about studies that just ask people about how they have done things (exercise, eating, it doesn’t matter – there’s a lot of error there!) but there was still some interesting tidbits.  One thing that really stood out was that as less than an hour of resistance training a week was enough to significantly reduce the risk of diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

I see it with clients that are worried about diabetes.  I see it with people who are wanting to lose weight.  Everyone thinks they need to spend a lot of time on the treadmill.  First of all – SO BORING!  But more importantly, you are probably missing out on the real key to controlling your blood sugar levels.  The more muscle you have, the more sugar you will use up, and the less sugar you will have floating around your body to damage your eyes, kidneys, nerves, and blood vessels…..


Questions? Comments? I’d love to hear from you!

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