Weight training has been found to help keep blood sugar in check, according to new research that suggests that bicep curls, bench presses, and other bodybuilding exercises may help diabetics manage their condition.
The study, by researchers in the Life Sciences Institute at the University of Michigan, challenges a long-held belief that building up so-called “white skeletal muscle” — which increases with resistance training — is harmful in diabetics.
On the contrary, the research published online in the journal Nature Medicine found weight training helps to manage blood glucose. The study also uncovered biological processes that could point the way to potential drug targets for obesity and metabolic disease.
"We wanted to figure out the relationship between muscle types and body metabolism, how the muscles were made, and also what kind of influence they have on diseases like type 2 diabetes," said lead researcher Jiandie Lin, a Life Sciences Institute faculty member and associate professor at the UM Medical School.
Just as poultry has light and dark meat, Lin explained that mammals have a range of muscle types known by color — red, white, and those in between. Red muscle, which gets its color from mitochondria, is common in people who engage in endurance training, such as marathon runners. White muscle dominates in the bodies of weightlifters and sprinters — people who engage in short, intense bursts of energy.
"Most people are in the middle and have a mix of red and white," Lin said.
People with diabetes see whitening of the mix of muscle, which was once believed to make muscle less responsive to insulin, the hormone that lowers blood sugar, Lin explained.
"But this idea is far from proven," Lin said. “You lose red muscle when you age or develop diabetes, but is that really the culprit?"
To find out, the team set out to find a protein that drives the formation of white muscle in mice. The researchers identified a protein called BAF60c that plays a key role in the creation of white muscle.
Additional experiments determined mice engineered to produce higher levels of the protein were much better at controlling blood glucose.
"The results are a bit of a surprise to many people," Lin said. "It really points to the complexity in thinking about muscle metabolism and diabetes."
In humans, resistance training promotes the growth of white muscle and helps in lowering blood glucose, Lin said.
"We know that this molecular pathway also works in human cells. The real challenge is to find a way to target these factors," Lin added.
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