A new study will be the first to establish the value of weightlifting in combating diabetes amongst Pacific Islanders.
PhD candidate William Sukala and a team of Massey University health researchers will conduct the first randomised, controlled trial amongst Pacific Islanders, using a programme of supervised weight lifting, known as progressive resistance training.
Their study is called SPIRIT – South Pacific Islanders Resist Diabetes with Intense Training. Forty participants with type 2 diabetes will be drawn from church groups and diabetes health care professionals, most in the Porirua area. All will be tested and assessed. Twenty will take part in supervised weight lifting for 16 weeks while the rest will have usual care. The weight lifting will involve nine exercises, targeting all major muscles of the body, performed three times a week.
Mr Sukala says it is well established that Pacific Islanders are disproportionately affected by type-2 diabetes and obesity, compared with Europeans.
“The epidemic of diabetes within the Pacific Islands community is a major public health concern that must be addressed with appropriate interventions,” he says.
“Other international studies conducted in high-risk groups have indicated that weightlifting is both safe and effective in improving blood sugar control and other factors in type-2 diabetes management.
“However, there has been very little advocacy for its use in the medical management of Pacific Islanders diagnosed with diabetes. This is likely to be because no clinical trials have been conducted within the Pacific island group.
“At present the generic advice given to people with diabetes is usually a vague ‘get out and take a walk’. At this point, nobody even considers the therapeutic value of weightlifting.”
Researchers from the University’s Institute of Food, Nutrition and Human Health have partnered with the National Heart Foundation, the Capital and Coast District Health Board, Porirua-based City Fitness, Pacific Island churches and diabetes health specialists.
“We know that earlier studies support the value of physical exercise in preventing and mitigating both diabetes and obesity in Maori and Pacific Island people. But this is the first randomised, controlled study – and the first New Zealand study – to focus specifically on weightlifting. We intend to prove its value with this research,” says Mr Sukala.
“The objective is to first run the study as a strictly controlled trial, and then adapt it into a self-determined, community-based fitness programme that people want to take part in. That can be encouraged and taken forward by Pacific Island churches and community centres, not just within New Zealand, but back to the islands as well.”
Mr Sukala expects the study will also bring benefits to the wider community.
“The fact that it is taking place will raise awareness within the scientific community and the public of the value of weightlifting as a safe and effective weapon in the fight against diabetes and its close ally, obesity.”