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Exercise to strengthen heart and muscles best for diabetes

Content provided by the Faculty of the Harvard Medical School

Exercise is one of the best all-around treatments for diabetes, a condition that often accompanies heart disease. Here's an interesting question: if you have only a limited amount of time each week for exercise, should you spend it all on aerobic exercise (like walking or swimming), strength training (like weight lifting), or a combination of the two?

Do both, say researchers with the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge. They looked at changes in blood sugar — a key health measure for people with diabetes — during a nine-month exercise trial. All of the volunteers exercised for about 140 minutes a week. Compared with a control group of non-exercisers, those who combined aerobic exercise with strength training had the biggest decrease in hemoglobin A1c, a measure of average blood sugar over the preceding two to three months. Hemoglobin A1c fell significantly less in volunteers who did only aerobic exercise or only strength training (Journal of the American Medical Association, Nov. 24, 2010).

Muscle tissue sponges sugar from the bloodstream. By building muscle and keeping it active, strength training and aerobic exercise can help keep blood sugar under control.

This combination approach is also good for the heart. The improvement in physical fitness seen in the group of volunteers doing both types of exercise could be expected to lower their risk of having a heart attack by 15% to 20%, Dr. Timothy S. Church, lead author of the study, told the Heart Letter.

Last Annual Review Date: 2011-05-01T00:00:00-06:00 Copyright: Copyright Harvard Health Publications

Reference: Diabetes section on Better Medicine


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Before meals, your target blood glucose level should be 70 – 130. One to two hours after a meal, glucose should be less than 180.