Diabetes Forecast

The Soup Can Plan

Getting fit without leaving the house

By Carolyn Butler , ,

I have a confession: Even though I know it's essential for my health and well-being to exercise, I don't always make time to work out. Actually, I hardly ever make time to work out, what with my job, a toddler to chase around, and any other number of excuses I can dredge up at a moment's notice. But I want to do better—and I want to help you to do better, too, no matter what level of fitness you're used to in your own life.

One question I've always had is exactly what type of exercise is most effective—given, of course, that I want to do the least possible amount of it. Well, according to new research, a one-two punch of aerobic activity plus resistance training may have a greater impact on controlling blood glucose than either one of these athletic pursuits alone. The study, published in the Sept. 18, 2007, Annals of Internal Medicine, tracked 251 previously inactive adults with type 2 diabetes who did either 45 minutes of aerobic training three times a week, 45 minutes of weight training three times a week, 45 minutes each of both forms of exercise three times a week, or no exercise at all.

The results: While blood glucose control improved in all of the exercisers, those who did both aerobic and resistance work had roughly twice as much success as their singularly focused counterparts, with an average A1C drop of 0.97 percent. The study authors linked this to a significant decline in risk for heart attack or stroke, as well as for diabetes-related complications like eye or kidney disease. "By doing both types of training, you get the best of both worlds," says Sheri Colberg, PhD, an associate professor of exercise science at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., and author of The 7 Step Diabetes Fitness Plan. "With aerobic activity, you tend to use up quite a bit of stored glycogen in the muscles, which can help increase insulin action for a period afterwards. With resistance training, you get more muscle mass, which means a greater storage deposit for carbohydrates and a higher metabolism," which can help with weight loss.

Still, both Colberg and the study authors themselves point out that participants doing the two forms of exercise worked out for twice as long, so it's not entirely clear whether their better outcomes stemmed from the combination of fitness routines or getting more exercise in general.

While more research is needed, people with diabetes shouldn't wait to hit those weights, says Jacqueline Shahar, MEd, RCEP, CDE, a clinical exercise physiologist and certified diabetes educator at the Joslin Clinic, a diabetes care facility at the Harvard-affiliated Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston. In addition to a broad array of health benefits, she notes that it's often easier to get people with diabetes to start—and, more importantly, to stay—exercising when they're doing resistance training, because it can feel less taxing on the body than aerobic activities like running, biking, or even just plain old walking. Plus, while it's important to get the go-ahead from your doctor, she adds, almost everyone can do some form of resistance training.

Shahar recommends consulting with a personal trainer or other fitness expert to start, but also suggests the beginner's program shown at left, which requires nothing more than a few light weights or everyday items like soup cans or water bottles. "You can do it without ever leaving the house," she says. "The key is to listen to your body and do what you can."

I myself grabbed two cans of Campbell's Chicken with Stars and started lifting away. The good news is that the exercises weren't particularly difficult on my body, and at the end of a full routine I actually felt like I'd gotten a decent workout. The bad news? My son thought that my new "weights" were toys, and a fair amount of chasing ensued. But I figure that was just a little aerobic activity to boot, right? After all, it doesn't matter how or where you're moving, so long as you take those first steps.

Carolyn Butler has written for the Washington Post and the New York Times, among other publications.

Minestrone for your Muscles

For each exercise, start with
one set of 10 repetitions and
add an additional rep as you
are able, up to 15. You can
gradually progress to two and
then three sets. Begin with
either light 1- or 2-pound
weights or household items
like soup cans, water bottles,
or bags of flour, before building
up to heavier weights.

1 Curls

Hold weights at sides, palms in. Curl arm toward shoulder rotating to palm up while beginning curl. Alternate arms.

2 Triceps Extension

Straighten arm, using other hand to keep upper arm stable.

3 Front Raise

Knees slightly bent, raise dumbbell above shoulder level, keeping elbow locked and breathe out. Return to starting point and breathe in. Alternate arms.

4 Shoulder Press

Palms in, press to straight arms, rotating to palms forward at end of movement and breathe out. Return to startingpoint and breathe in.

5 Shoulder Abduction

Holding 1- to 2-pound weights, raise arms out from sides and breathe out. Return to starting point and breathe in.


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