Boost muscle strength to lower diabetes risk

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Building muscle strength may offer a way to lower your risk of type 2 diabetes, researchers report.

In a new study of more than 4,500 adults, researchers found that moderate muscle mass reduced the risk for type 2 diabetes by 32 percent. The benefits were independent of cardiorespiratory fitness. Higher levels of muscle strength did not provide additional protection.

Of the 30 million Americans with diabetes, 90 to 95 percent have type 2, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

What’s the right amount?

The results are encouraging because even small amounts of resistance exercise may improve muscle strength and help prevent type 2 diabetes, says DC (Duck-chul) Lee, associate professor of kinesiology at Iowa State University and corresponding author of the study, which appears in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

It’s difficult, however, to recommend an optimal level because there are no standardized measurements for muscle strength, he says.

“Naturally, people will want to know how often to lift weights or how much muscle mass they need, but it’s not that simple,” Lee says.

“As researchers, we have several ways to measure muscle strength, such as grip strength or bench press. More work is needed to determine the proper dose of resistance exercise, which may vary for different health outcomes and populations.”

Study participants completed chest and leg presses to measure muscle strength. Researchers adjusted those measurements for age, gender, and body weight as potential confounders—an example of why researchers say it’s complicated to provide general recommendations.

“You’re not necessarily going to see the results of resistance training on your bathroom scale, but there are several health benefits.”

For the study, researchers analyzed data from the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study, collected at the Cooper Clinic in Dallas.

The current study is one of the first to look at the risk of type 2 diabetes and muscle strength, separate from cardiorespiratory fitness. Participants ranged in age from 20 to 100 years old. The researchers required all participants to complete initial and follow-up exams.

Moderate strength reduced the risk of type 2 diabetes regardless of lifestyle choices such as smoking and drinking, or health issues such as obesity and high blood pressure, says Angelique Brellenthin, a postdoctoral researcher in kinesiology.

While several factors contribute to muscle strength, resistance exercise is important, she says. Information on resistance exercise wasn’t available for most participants, with the exception of a small group, which showed a moderate correlation between muscle strength and frequency or days per week of resistance exercise.

Better than nothing

Previous research suggests that resistance training improves glucose levels and reduces waist circumference—an indicator of excess fat associated with type 2 diabetes and other health issues, Brellenthin says.

“You’re not necessarily going to see the results of resistance training on your bathroom scale, but there are several health benefits,” Brellenthin says. “It may help lower your risk for type 2 diabetes even though you do not lose body weight, and we know maintaining muscle mass helps us stay functional and independent throughout life.”

Based on self-reports, only 20 percent of Americans meet the guidelines (two days a week of muscle-strengthening activities) for resistance exercise, Brellenthin says.

While data for the study are not sufficient to provide suggestions for weight training, some is better than none. You don’t need a gym membership or expensive equipment to start. In fact, you can start at home by doing body-weight exercises.

“We want to encourage small amounts of resistance training and it doesn’t need to be complicated,” Brellenthin says. “You can get a good resistance workout with squats, planks, or lunges. Then, as you build strength, you can consider adding free weights or weight machines.”

Additional researchers are from the University of South Carolina; Pennington Biomedical Research Center; and Ochsner Clinical School-University of Queensland School of Medicine.

Source: Iowa State University