Resistance Training May Lower Type 2 Diabetes Risk, Research Shows

African American woman performing medicine ball exercise

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Key Takeaways

  • Using weights or resistance bands may offer health improvements that lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
  • This type of training offers other advantages as well, from improved mood to higher bone density.
  • Resistance training may be beneficial because it involves intensity in short bursts, which has been shown to help with insulin sensitivity.

Exercise using weights or resistance bands may effectively regulate blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglycerides enough to lower your risk of type 2 diabetes, according to research in Sports Medicine.

Researchers looked at 14 studies with 668 participants total, focusing on controlled trials that used resistance training interventions to affect cardiometabolic health in a way that could delay the onset of type 2 diabetes for those at higher risk.

They noted that this type of training has already been found to be effective for glycemic control in people who already have diabetes, but this research shows it can also lower the risk for those who haven’t developed the condition.

According to the study, risk factors for type 2 diabetes include:

  • Cardiovascular diseases like coronary artery disease
  • High blood lipids
  • Obesity, particularly abdominal fat
  • High blood sugar levels
  • High blood pressure

Resistance training seemed to be especially effective for lowering blood sugar, lipids, and body fat if done for at least 12 weeks, according to lead author Raza Qadir, MD, who worked on the research while at Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine. He says controlling those health factors can reduce the risk of developing diabetes or at least delay onset to some degree.

Type of Workout Matters

Although any type of movement can be beneficial compared to being sedentary—especially for avoiding diabetes—Qadir says the data shows particularly good results with a specific type of training:

“These findings have implications for type 2 diabetes prevention efforts,” says Qadir, adding that more studies need to be done to determine whether consistent, long-term resistance training could prevent the disease altogether. However, considering the complications and costs of type 2 diabetes, implementing more resistance training sooner rather than later may be a solid public health strategy, he suggests.

According to Qadir, other benefits of resistance training include:

  • Improved athletic performance
  • Better body composition
  • Higher bone density
  • Improved mood
  • Weight management
  • Flexibility and balance maintenance
  • Improved muscle strength

Embracing Resistance

There’s little question that resistance training is more beneficial than being sedentary, but why does it seem to have an advantage over steady-state cardio like brisk walking or bicycling?

One reason might be that it’s done in short intervals and with intensity, which has been shown in previous research to improve the kinds of metabolic factors associated with diabetes risk.

For example, a study in Circulation, looking at middle-aged men and women found that even short bursts of activity had a considerable effect on their metabolites.

"Metabolites are critically important small molecules known to reflect health status, but typically only small numbers of metabolites are measured in our current approach to health care," says lead author of that research, Gregory Lewis, MD, section head of heart failure at Massachusetts General Hospital.

For instance, he adds, glucose is a metabolite that is abnormally elevated in diabetes, so being able to track their function and how exercise affects them could lead to more insight into why intense exercise might affect metabolites in a beneficial way.

However, you don't necessarily have to go full-out to get the benefits in that 12 minutes. Lewis says their research used a protocol that started with gradual exercise that became more intense through increased resistance, and participants still showed significant metabolic advantages.

Gregory Lewis, MD

Metabolites are critically important small molecules known to reflect health status, but typically only small numbers of metabolites are measured in our current approach to health care,

— Gregory Lewis, MD

Another benefit to resistance training versus strictly-cardio is that the effects may continue past the exercise session—which can be a major benefit for keeping blood sugar regulated.

A study in Diabetes & Metabolism Journal found significant benefits on insulin sensitivity from exercise—particularly resistance training—and results typically persisted for at least 72 hours after a session.

What This Means For You

Putting resistance training into your exercise mix could help reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes, and give you other benefits as well, from improved mood to better bone density.

3 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Qadir R, Sculthorpe NF, Todd T, Brown EC. Effectiveness of resistance training and associated program characteristics in patients at risk for type 2 diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Sports Med Open. 2021;7(1):38. doi:10.1186/s40798-021-00321-x

  2. Nayor M, Shah RV, Miller PE, et al. Metabolic architecture of acute exercise response in middle-aged adults in the community. Circulation. 2020;142(20):1905-1924. doi:10.1161/circulationaha.120.050281

  3. Way KL, Hackett DA, Baker MK, Johnson NA. The effect of regular exercise on insulin sensitivity in type 2 diabetes mellitus: a systematic review and meta-analysisDiabetes Metab J. 2016;40(4):253-271. doi:10.4093/dmj.2016.40.4.253

By Elizabeth Millard
Elizabeth Millard is a freelance journalist specializing in health, wellness, fitness, and nutrition.