Ginger's best lifts: bench press (190 lbs.), squat (255 lbs.), dead lift (308 lbs.)
Considering Ginger Vieira’s current career choices—she’s a personal trainer, yoga instructor, motivational fitness and diabetes coach, and professional power lifter with 15 records to her name—it’s hard to believe she ever considered herself something of an athletic dud.
Her junior year of college, when her A1C reached its highest level since her diagnosis with type 1 diabetes at age 13, the on-again, off-again jogger hit the weight room. After a summer of strength training and doing yoga, Vieira had gained muscle, reduced her daily insulin dose, and dropped 10 pounds.
Her new workout kept her blood glucose steady, so she stepped it up, hiring a personal trainer and teaching yoga. “By the end of that year I had become a certified yoga instructor and certified personal trainer,” she says. The 26-year-old exercise diva from Burlington, Vt., looks back on that time as the turning point in her life. It’s when she decided to take control of her diabetes and help other people find their inner athlete. She’s even self-published a book, Your Diabetes Science Experiment.
Diabetes Forecast chatted with Vieira about power lifting (which she plans to participate in again this spring, once a back injury is fully healed), diabetes management, and how she’s helping others with diabetes combat high blood glucose with good ol’ sweat sessions.
Why is strength training important for diabetes health?
When you add even just 5 pounds of muscle all over your body, it increases your insulin sensitivity in such an awesome way that you simply need less insulin and your body is helping you burn off glucose. The difference between strength training and cardio and aerobic activity (which still is awesome for insulin sensitivity and awesome for burning calories) is that when you do strength training and you increase the muscle mass on your body, you’re increasing your insulin sensitivity in a really permanent way.
Will strength training drop blood glucose levels?
The main thing about strength training—and this is for type 1 or type 2—is that it really shouldn’t drop your blood sugar very much because it’s anaerobic and glucagon [a hormone that raises blood glucose levels] is being released during the process. Start your blood sugar at a healthy range, around 120, and check it afterward. If [you have type 1 diabetes and are] high after doing that, that tells you your body needed a little more insulin before doing the workout. Where you’ll notice you might have lows [if you take insulin or type 2 medications called sulfonylureas] is three to four hours after your workout.
How should people with type 2 handle post-workout highs?
A really great way to bring that high blood sugar down after strength training, if you aren’t taking supplemental insulin, is to hop on a cardio machine for 10 to 15 minutes right after you finish strength training. Cardio, unlike strength training, absolutely does drop your blood sugar.
Can people with type 2 diabetes experience a low hours after strength training like those with type 1 can?
If a person with type 2 is taking oral medications or insulin, they are just as likely to drop low during that three- to four-hour time period after exercising. One thing you can do is be sure to include some carbohydrate in your post-workout meal.
Why is form important in strength training?
There are so many ways to do it wrong, and there are so many ways to waste your time, so even if you can’t afford a long-term personal trainer I highly, highly recommend buying at least three sessions with a personal trainer and asking them to teach you some basic exercises so that you have the form correct, you’re using the right amount of weight, and you’re putting together a program, a routine of exercises, that makes sense. [Another option is to] buy a fitness book or DVD. I really think education is extremely important.
What would you tell people about investing in their fitness?
If you asked me five years ago if I would go on to set 15 records in power lifting, become a yoga instructor, health coach, and personal trainer, I would have laughed and laughed! I never thought of myself as very athletic before. When I first started working out with my trainer in 2007, I remember thinking after a few months, “Well, I don’t see a huge difference in my body right now, but I really like doing this, I really like being here.” And so I stuck with it.
If I had just given up after the first three months because I hadn’t lost all of the weight I wanted to lose, then I would have never reached power lifting. Today, I am absolutely an athlete, but it took a lot of persistence and curiosity to find my passions for exercise and my health.
How can people make exercise a priority in their lives?
First of all, set a clear goal. Think about why exercising is really something you want for your life, write it down, and focus on that as your primary motivation. Then pick one or two days where you simply do something that gets your heart rate up: walking, going to a fitness class, getting on an elliptical. You don’t need to go full throttle and [exercise] five days a week for 60 minutes in order to make progress. One or two days for 30 minutes is a great place to begin.