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6 Positive Benefits of Weight Lifting on Blood Sugar

Amanda Donahue, MS, RD, CD

Published in Workouts

10 min read

April 27, 2022
a person holding a dumbbell
a person holding a dumbbell

The bodybuilding craze of the 1960s built a lasting image around weight lifting that still scares some people away from their local gym. Think Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gold's Gym, Pumping Iron. But weight lifting doesn't have to be about entering bodybuilding competitions or winning awards. 

The truth is that weight lifting can benefit your body inside and out, help you lose weight, and help you maintain and manage various health conditions. From controlling your blood sugar to increased mobility, let's explore what you stand to gain and how to get started with weight lifting. 

6 Benefits of Weight Lifting for People Controlling their Blood Sugar Control 

a person preparing to weightlifting

How would you define weight lifting? Most people will likely describe rows of heavy barbells, complicated equipment, and men as large as school buses wearing sleeveless shirts. 

While that image may accurately portray the most extreme weight lifters, practically anyone with access to some weights can pursue weight lifting. 

Regardless of your age, size, or body composition, your body will use your muscles to help you move. As such an important, integral part of your body and its systems, training your muscles yields many health benefits many people might find surprising. Here are just a few. 

1) Lifting Weights Improves Blood Sugar Control 

a person holding dumbbells in front of the mirror in the gym

Most pertinent to those living with conditions like prediabetes and type 2 diabetes, or anyone who needs to regulate their blood sugar, is the benefit lifting weights has on these levels. 

As some research finds, strength training exercises like weight lifting can be beneficial for those with type 2 diabetes. You may notice increased control over your blood sugar levels in response to weight lifting. 

As you exercise, your body uses your blood sugar to fuel the physical activity you're putting it through. The more fuel you burn up, the more room you’re making for your body to take the edge off sugar spikes and otherwise flatten the bumps in your sugar levels throughout the day. 

2) Encourages Weight Loss (Physically and Mentally) 

a person holding dumbbells outdoors

It shouldn’t surprise you that routine exercise promotes weight loss over time. Any physical activity, including weight lifting, demands energy expenditure to fuel that activity, and calories are the metric used to calculate that energy. 

Burning more calories than you consume through your diet can translate into weight loss. The logic may sound simple, but consistently adjusting your lifestyle to include exercise can be challenging. 

Overcoming that challenge is worth it, though. Losing excess weight, and keeping it off, pays dividends to your overall wellbeing. But the benefits don’t stop with your body! Weight lifting can help shed mental and physical weight, as more studies and research show that your mood may improve after working out. 

3) Can Improve Insulin Sensitivity 

a syringe and a glucose monitor

Insulin resistance is one of the significant risks leading to a diagnosis of prediabetes or diabetes. If you’re resistant to the insulin your body releases, you have a more challenging time putting your blood sugar to work. This excess sugar can lead to diabetes and other related complications. 

Thankfully, it’s now well understood that exercise improves insulin sensitivity, even right after exercise. While all exercise is generally beneficial to your overall blood sugar and insulin maintenance, focus on your particular insulin needs when engaging in weight lifting. 

Weight lifting is an anaerobic exercise (your muscles are active in short bursts, compared to sustained usage like running), which means glucose is the main energy source here. This is unlike aerobic exercise, which uses more oxygen and fat as the main energy source. 

Because the more intense the anaerobic session, the more glucose breakdown you may see from the demands of the physical activity, this may lead to an increase in your blood sugar. 


4) Can Increase Glucose Storage 

Your muscles store a lot of glucose. The bigger they are, the more blood glucose they can hold after exercise, improving your carbohydrate tolerability. To benefit from this, you don’t have to struggle for big bodybuilder muscles: even a simple routine will yield valuable results. We outline an example of such a routine later in this article. 

5) Helps Target Dangerous Belly Fat 

Evidence continues to grow that belly fat is particularly harmful compared to fat around other body areas. It's known as visceral fat, and it typically collects deep within your core beyond the subcutaneous fat you see on the surface. 

Researchers claim the danger stems from how the belly fat surrounds your organs, correlating to various increased risk factors for your health. Following guides for six-pack abs and performing hundreds of crunches may not be as helpful as you’d think since this fat is beneath the muscles associated with those exercises. 

Weight lifting and basic strength training may be a more prudent use of your time and sweat. After all, visceral belly fat typically responds just as well to generalized exercise as the rest of your body. 

6) Weight Training Helps Prevent Diabetes

a person weightlifting

By improving your body’s management and tolerances of blood sugar, you’re building a foundation for altogether preventing diabetes, even if you’ve already been diagnosed with prediabetes.

As some research shows, regular weight training can help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes

Other Benefits of Lifting Weights 

Benefits to your health are far and wide beyond what weight lifting can do for your blood. Your overall health has everything to gain from routine weight lifting, including: 

  • Increased muscle mass, helping to make moving through your daily tasks easier.
  • Increased longevity.
  • Improved mobility and the ability to get up and stay up and active for longer.
  • Improved flexibility, enabling you to keep doing the things you love and avoid injury.
  • Stronger and more protected joints, reducing chances of pain and stiffness. 

Risks of Weight Lifting 

a person holding dumbbells outdoors

Even though it's healthy, no physical activity comes risk-free. It's always a good idea to consult with your doctor before exploring any new type of exercise, especially if you have diabetes. 

For one, working out has a direct impact on your blood sugar during exercise, immediately, and even for hours afterward. 

So, it’s essential to start slow and keep track of your sugar levels as you get into the habit of weight lifting. We mentioned weight lifting might raise your blood sugar, which can pose a risk to your health if your levels were already high when you began your exercise for the day. 

It's a good idea to avoid exercise for the moment if your blood sugar is outside of normal ranges (for your specific body and age—remember that this differs). You may also want to stop and reevaluate your routine if you’ve recently taken medication for diabetes treatment such as insulin, or anything that may stimulate insulin release, increasing your risk of hypoglycemia. 

There are other, more typical risks to keep in mind that have simple counter-strategies, such as: 

  • You should stretch and warm up to avoid injury.
  • It's a good idea for any exercise to avoid overexertion. 
  • Staying hydrated is essential, exercise or no exercise. 

Sample Weight Training Workout Plan + Tips to Getting Started

a person holding a dumbbell at home

With any exercise goal, consistency is the cornerstone for success, and it helps to have at least a simple plan to help build the habit. We think the following workout plan provides a confident way to dip your toes into the waters of weight lifting. It may be helpful to consult with a personal trainer who has experience with weight training to ensure proper form and reduce your risk of injury. 

Remember that any exercise is good, so if you find it challenging to keep up with this plan, you can break it down into even more manageable, bite-sized chunks! 

Day 1: Upper Body 

Stretch! Stretching is one of the simplest methods of avoiding exercise-related injury and increasing mobility. Consider adding it to your daily routine, even when you’re not working out. 

We recommend picking and choosing different stretches to kick off your particular weightlifting routine. After stretching, follow this workout. Feel free to add, remove, or change it up to meet your needs! 

  • Front raises: Three sets of 16 repetitions 
  • Shoulder press: Three sets of 15 repetitions 
  • Pushups: Three sets of 10 repetitions 
  • Chest flys: Three sets of 12 repetitions 
  • Tricep dips: Three sets of 12 repetitions 

Day 2: Arm and Back Muscles 

It’s important to balance which muscles you target when weight lifting on consecutive days. So on this day, focus on your biceps, triceps, and back muscles. Repeat this routine three times.

  • Stretch 
  • Bicep curls: 12 repetitions 
  • Kneeling single-arm rows: 10 repetitions 
  • Hammer curls: 12 repetitions
  • Lat pull-down (or pull-ups): 10 repetitions 

Day 3: Legs and Core 

Many people neglect to work their core, believing it’s only helpful to train those muscles to gain beach body abs. They end up missing out on the additional support those muscles provide, relieving your back muscles and spine of the weight of the upper body, increasing flexibility, and staving off dreaded back pain. 

  • Stretch 
  • Side plank, once per side of the body: 10 to 30 seconds 
  • Toe taps: 10 to 20 repetitions 
  • Plank: 10 to 30 seconds 
  • Standing calf raises: Up to three sets 
  • Wall sit: Up to 120 seconds 
  • Squats: Three sets of 15 

Repeat this routine two to three times.

Rest Day 

a person stretching at home

It might sound counterintuitive to give yourself a break when you want to reap the benefits of all that exercise. Still, it’s important to give your body and muscles a chance to recover. 

Muscles are broken down during exercise and grow as the fibers are rebuilt. That rebuilding happens during your rest days and denying your muscles that resting period may hinder rather than help your progress. 

However, it’s a good idea not to go into total couch potato mode. Your rest days are the perfect opportunity to keep your blood flowing and body accustomed to moving. 

A low-key day enjoying the outdoors, keeping up with a simple yoga practice, or just walking around your local farmers market are great ways to stay on the move. 

Tips for Your Exercise Routine

Start slow and stay slow! Feel out how many repetitions and how much weight is appropriate for you to lift. Everyone starts somewhere. While weightlifting, use slow, deliberate movements and avoid sudden, jerky motions. Your muscles will benefit much more from the exercise, and you will significantly reduce the risk of injury. 

1) Rest Between Sets

Make sure to rest—but not for too long. It’s necessary to catch your breath and regroup. But it’s also important to maintain your increased heart rate and keep your muscles warm.

Recommendations on this vary, with some sources saying between 30 to 90 seconds here is ideal to induce muscle hypertrophy but also two to five minutes for max strength development. Remember, this will change according to your needs so consult an expert to find the perfect fit for you. 

2) Modify Exercises to Match Your Skill Level

Some exercises, like pushups, can be modified to shift your weight to make things more or less difficult. Only you know your body, so make sure you are working within your abilities, especially in the beginning.

If you have access to a gym full of machines, that’s fantastic. But you can do most of these exercises with a simple set of free weights, resistance bands, or even just your body weight.

3) Pace Yourself

  • Focus on your warm-up: Warm muscles are less injury-prone. A light, quick cardio routine and some jumping jacks can do the trick. 
  • Cool down: Allow your heart rate to return to normal by gradually easing it down through some more light cardio. 
  • Don’t worry if you miss a day: Even pro athletes forget. And sometimes, you just don’t have time or need to take a break. 
  • When in doubt, ask someone: If you aren’t sure how to perform an exercise, it's much better to ask a professional how to do it rather than risk pulling a muscle.

Here’s chart to pin up to remind you what you should do on each of the three days you weight lift. It’s a good idea to stretch often (consider stretching before this routine begins on day one) and remember to rest on day four! 

a working out plan
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Carlee Hayes, RDN, CD

Reviewed by: Carlee Hayes, RDN, CD

Carlee's training at Western Illinois University and an internship at the Memphis VA Hospital lead her to a career in outpatient counseling and bariatric nutrition therapy. In these positions, Carlee realized many of the disease states (upwards of 80%!) her patients experienced were actually preventable. She knew she had to dig deeper into preventative health and has since been passionate about helping people translate this complex glucose data into actionable changes anyone can implement into their everyday lives.

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