Lifting weights, which builds so-called white muscle, isn’t harmful and could even be beneficial to diabetics. Despite a previous theory that white muscle encourages insulin resistance and thus contributes to the development of type 2 diabetes, researchers from the University of Michigan showed that the white muscle which develops in response to weight training actually helps keep blood sugar lower.
The team led by Jiandie Lin published their results in Sunday’s Nature Medicine.
The research was performed on mouse models, so that they could get a better look at the muscles that developed in response to stress like lifting weights. Lin explained that mammals have a mix of muscle — red muscle, which is evolved for endurance like marathon or distance running, and white muscle, which provides the fast, explosive energy used in lifting weights.
By testing the mice on treadmills, they were able to demonstrate that resistance training allowed the mice to develop more white muscle. Then the mice were fed a special diet that forced the rodents to double their weight in two to three months. Despite becoming obese, the mice with more white muscle were much better at keeping their blood sugar under control — and, therefore, at lower risk for diabetes.
“We know that this molecular pathway also works in human cells,” Lin pointed out.
While Lin called the results “surprising” and a lot of people do feel that weight-lifting is somewhat unhealthy, I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that some of the bad press that swirls around weight-lifting really comes from the side effects of supplements or substances like steroids. Dr. Sheldon Sheps for the Mayo Clinic has said if you have uncontrolled high blood pressure, you do need to check with your medical team first before you get into weight-training. Fair enough.
However, based on this research, it sounds like you don’t have to worry that you might be increasing your diabetes risk if you lift weights and build white muscle. You might even be improving your odds.
[Youth Olympia lifting weights photo courtesy SPH-SYOGOC/Chia Ti Yan via Flickr and Creative Commons]