Prescription for Type 2 Diabetes: Cardio Plus Weights

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Diet and exercise is the mantra for good health in any population, not least in patients with Type 2 diabetes. Now a new study suggests that when it comes to exercise, the combination of aerobics and weight lifting is better than either activity alone at lowering blood sugar in diabetes patients.

That doesn’t mean double the time spent exercising, however. The study found that doing both types of exercise — some days spent doing cardio, and other days lifting weights — was effective, even if patients’ total exercise time did not differ.

To figure out which type of exercise was most effective, researchers recruited 262 sedentary adults with diabetes for a nine-month study. The volunteers were randomly assigned to one of four groups: aerobic exercise only (about 150 minutes of walking on a treadmill per week), resistance training only (upper- and lower-body exercises on weight machines three days per week), aerobic exercise plus weights (two weekly sessions of weight training plus cardio on other days, with total exercise time roughly equaling the other groups), and no exercise.

The researchers found that participants in the combination group were able to lower their blood levels of HbA1C (an indicator of blood sugar) by 0.34%, compared with the aerobics- and weights-only groups, who lowered their HbA1C levels by 0.24% and 0.16%, respectively. The only change that was statistically significant from the control group’s, however, was that of the combination exercise group.

“From a health perspective, the combination exercise program really outshined the others,” the study’s lead author, Dr. Timothy Church, director of preventive medicine research at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center at Louisiana State University System in Baton Rouge, told HealthDay.

Participants in the combination-exercise group lowered the amount of diabetes medication they needed on average. They were also the only ones to lose weight out of all the groups. And while all groups lost some fat mass, the combination-exercise group and lost the most compared with the control group.

“The biggest consumer of blood sugar is skeletal muscle, and anything you do to improve the health of your muscles will help control your use of blood sugar,” Church told HealthDay.