It’s a strange analogy, but getting lean is a little like getting wealthy. The engine behind wealth is capital, which requires some upfront spending and research. It’s a little bit scary and counter-intuitive to invest time and money to grow wealth. Similarly, the metabolic engine behind growing leaner is lean body tissue. Strengthening muscles, bones, and connective tissue at first appears counter to your goals because it requires that you eat plenty of good calories and invest time in resistance exercise, not starvation coupled with hamster wheel cardiovascular exercise like we’ve been taught all of our lives.
Cutting Spending and Cutting Calories
It’s impossible to achieve and retain wealth by just cutting spending. Similarly, it’s impossible to get and stay lean by just cutting calories. Cutting spending and cutting calories are necessary from time to time, but are not useful foundational principles to live your life by. A bodybuilder may cut calories in preparation for a photo shoot or competition. However, operating at a calorie deficit indefinitely is not conducive to health or perpetual leanness and would certainly be counter to the goals of the bodybuilder. Likewise, a small business owner may cut spending during a particularly poor sales quarter, but would not necessarily want to make those cuts permanent. To be clear, saving money by cutting out unnecessary expenses is a good foundational practice just like removing unnecessary or empty calories from your diet.
The Benefits of Muscle
For the purposes of this discussion, I’m going to define resistance exercise as a movement practice that places the musculoskeletal system under relatively heavy loads. Weight lifting has been shown to be a safe and effective way to strengthen lean body mass like muscle, bone, and connective tissue and enhance physical performance. Lifting weights has three major benefits, all of which are helpful for the diabetic.
By the way, lifting weights is not going to result in you suddenly sporting 20 inch guns and wobbling around with beefy thighs. If it were that simple, bodybuilders wouldn’t have to resort to such ridiculous workout routine and insanely high caloric intakes just to put on a few pounds of muscle. Women, especially, will have a hard time putting on muscle mass simply because they lack tons of testosterone. Like I said, however, strengthening and building lean body mass has three major benefits for the diabetic.
- Lean body mass is expensive to maintain. By eating enough healthy calories and stressing your musculoskeletal system with a well designed weight lifting program, one can build the metabolic engine required for growing lean tissue. This tissue requires lots of calories to maintain. If you were to eat an excess number of calories, chances are good those excess calories will go to maintain your healthy lean mass as apposed to getting stored as excess body fat. Since men, on average, have more lean body mass than women, men can often more easily lose excess body fat simply by cleaning up their diet. However, women can take advantage of the same metabolic engine that men have by strengthening and building lean tissue. Diabetes disrupts metabolic and hormonal systems and causes inflammation. This inflammation can lead to accumulation of excess body fat. Therefore, a robust metabolic engine can help to counter your body’s desire to accumulate excess body fat. Lifting weights has even been shown to help ameliorate some of the disrupted hormonal balances caused by diabetes.
- One of the lean tissues, in particular, can behave as a reservoir for glucose. Muscle stores glucose in the form of glycogen for later use as fuel. By periodically emptying that stored glucose through short bursts of intense exercise such as weight lifting, one can create a natural repository for excess glucose thereby removing it from your blood stream. The over all effect is enhanced insulin sensitivity, lower insulin demand, and tighter blood glucose control.
- The metabolic engine you strengthen through resistance training will consist of stronger bones, connective tissue, and muscle. The American Council on Exercise reports that strength training may reduce the effects of osteoarthritis. In addition, an increase in lean body mass has also been shown to improve blood pressure, lower triglyceride levels, improve over all cholesterol profiles, and lower blood glucose spikes.
If you’re new to lifting and you decide to give it a go, seriously…start slow and consider hiring a good trainer. Getting hurt is simply not worth it. If you’re pretty experienced already, keep it up and stay safe – you are probably already enjoying the benefits of having a robust musculoskeletal engine keeping you lean and healthy.