Did you know that 1/3 of overweight children and teenagers have insulin resistance? (1) In fact, over 30% of the U.S. population have insulin resistance! (2) Unfortunately, being insulin resistant increases your risk for developing diabetes. You could be insulin resistant for years without knowing it. Many people do not have any symptoms of this disease. Therefore, it is imperative that your doctor checks your blood sugar on a regular basis. Furthermore, it is estimated that 50% of people with insulin resistance develop type 2 diabetes if they don’t make lifestyle changes.(11) This is a condition that we need to understand better. As a result, we may be able to control it better. In this article, we will discuss many aspects of insulin including what the best exercises are to improve your insulin resistance.
Physiology of Insulin
Generally when you have insulin resistance, your cells produce insulin that the cells are resistant to. Therefore, the cells are unable to use it properly. As a result, this leads to high blood sugar. Then the beta cells in your pancreas start increasing their production of insulin, which further increases your blood insulin level.(3)
However, there are several approaches you can take. You can reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by making lifestyle changes. The most important changes that you can make are:(4)
1. Lose Weight
2. Increase Physical Activity
This is important because when you exercise, your body burns glycogen. Glycogen is stored in your muscles. When you are finished exercising, your muscles replace their glycogen. They get the replacement glucose from your bloodstream. The more glycogen that is burned during a workout, the longer the body’s insulin sensitivity is improved. As a result, your muscles become more sensitive to insulin. (5)
There are certain risk factors that can lead to insulin resistance. Some of them are:
Common Causes (6)
- Weight Gain/ Belly Fat
- Excess Calories/ Overeating
- High Sugar Intake
- Decreased Physical Activity
- Gut Health
If you are uncertain if you are insulin resistant, there are some common symptoms as well. They are:
- Intense Thirst/ Hunger
- Tingling in Hands and Feet
- Frequent Urination
- Hungry Post Meals
- Dark Dry Patches on Skin
If you have any of the above mentioned symptoms, you should talk to your primary care doctor. You may be developing insulin resistance. Next we will discuss the best methods of testing for insulin resistance.
Best Methods for Testing
The most accurate way to know is to be tested for insulin resistance. A number of tests can help diagnose pre-diabetes and diabetes:(6)
- A1C test: This measures a person’s average blood sugar level over the previous 2–3 months.
- Fasting blood glucose test: A doctor checks glucose levels after a person refrains from eating or drinking for 8 or more hours.
- Random glucose test: This involves a medical professional checking blood glucose levels at some point during the day.
Test scoring for the A1C test are:
- A1C under 5.7 percent is considered normal.
- Scores on the A1C between 5.7 and 6.4 percent means pre-diabetes.
- An A1C equal to or above 6.5 percent means diabetes.
Test scoring for the fasting blood glucose test are:
- Fasting blood sugar levels under 100 milligrams/deciliter (mg/dL) are considered normal.
- Levels between 100 and 125 mg/dL indicate prediabetes.
- Results equal to or greater than 126 mg/dL mean diabetes.
Test scoring for the glucose tolerance test are:
- Blood sugar level after two hours of less than 140 mg/dL is considered normal.
- Results between 140 mg/dL and 199 mg/dL is considered prediabetes.
- A blood sugar level of 200mg/dL or higher is considered diabetes.
Doctors usually request more than one of these tests to ensure an accurate diagnosis. Therefore, if blood sugar levels consistently fall outside of a normal range, it might indicate that you are becoming resistant to insulin. In the next section we will discuss some research and studies on this subject.
Exercise and Insulin Resistance Studies
Several studies have been done with results showing that exercise can improve insulin resistance. Therefore, we will discuss the results in this section.
The Journal of Physiology had some individuals engage in 16 minutes of all-out cycling. They used the Wingate Method, which is 30 seconds of all-out cycling, followed by a small break. This cycle was repeated for 16 minutes. The study was active over 14 days time. Data showed that this type of high-intensity-interval-training (HIIT) exercise drastically improves insulin resistance.(8)
Another study done by BMC Endocrine Disorders tested 16 young men over the course of 14 days. They engaged in HIIT for 15 minutes every day over that 14 days. The results were a remarkable improvement of insulin resistance. (7)
Additionally the Frontier in Physiology did a study. They used 40 women and had them engage in HIIT exercise for 10 weeks. In this study, all metrics of cardio metabolic health improved. (9) This means that:
- Insulin Levels Went Down
- Blood Sugar Went Down
- Weight Went Down
- Fat Loss Increased
Another new study found that short, functional-movement and resistance training workouts are very beneficial. These workouts are called functional high-intensity training (F-HIT). It may improve beta-cell function in adults with type 2 diabetes. Beta cells in the pancreas produce, store and secrete insulin. This allows your body to use sugar for energy. This small study is the first one of its kind to analyze beta-cell function in F-HIT or resistance training.(10)
Generally, all of these studies have one thing in common. Exercise does help to reduce insulin resistance. The best type of exercise to lower your blood sugar is short duration, high-intensity, interval training. Next we will discuss why it is crucial to reduce insulin resistance.
Why It Is Important to Reduce Insulin Resistance
Insulin resistance is very prevalent in America today and it increases your risk for many other chronic diseases. Some of these diseases are:(5)
- Coronary Artery Disease
- High Cholesterol
- Fatty Liver
- Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Kidney Failure
For the most part, these are very serious chronic diseases. However, if you can correct your insulin resistance then you will reduce your risk of developing them. Therefore, the sooner you start taking control of your insulin resistance, the better off you will be. (8) Next we will discuss the best type of exercise to do to help improve insulin resistance.
The Basic Concept of Exercise for Insulin Resistance
The best exercise for insulin resistance is short duration workouts at high intensity. Short duration refers to 5 – 20 minutes. High intensity is as fast as you can go. There are many types of exercise you can do. For instance, some that work well are sprints and cycling. These exercises should be done at maximum output for 30 seconds, then take 30 second break. Then repeat that cycle for 5 – 20 minutes.
As we discussed earlier in this article, there are various studies which have shown the positive results exercise has on insulin resistance. We will discuss the F-HIT workouts more in depth in this section. F-HIT workouts combine functional movements such as :
- Weight Lifting
- Aerobic Exercise
Adults with insulin resistance may find it difficult to stick to an exercise routine. Many people blame lack of time as their excuse for not exercising. However, F-HIT programs like CrossFitTM prove everyone has time. F-HIT workouts are structured, with a small time commitment. (10) This makes it much easier for people to be able to fit it into their busy lifestyles. Therefore, it is easier to maintain as a routine.
Next we will discuss some general nutrition facts to help improve insulin resistance.
As you probably already know, the best way to lose weight is by eating healthy and exercising. We have already discussed what type of exercises work best to improve insulin resistance. Now we will discuss the best way for you to eat to help improve your blood sugar. Basically the best thing you can do is follow the instructions below.
1. Unhealthy Fat
4. Processed Starches
Additionally you should eat more:
3. Whole Grains
5. Lean Poultry
It can be hard to change your lifestyle. Therefore, the best way to change is slowly incorporate it into your routine. Begin by changing one meal a day to a healthier option. Then gradually change all of your meals to healthier options. Afterwards, you will be amazed how much better you will look and feel.
Now hopefully you know more about insulin resistance and what to do if you are diagnosed with it. Some people panic when they are diagnosed and try to drastically change their lifestyle. However, it is best to gradually try to increase your levels of physical activity. Otherwise, you could risk getting injured.
To summarize, it can be hard to change your lifestyle. Therefore, the best way to change is slowly incorporate it into your routine. Begin by changing one meal a day to a healthier option. Then gradually change all of your meals to healthier options. Afterwards, you will be amazed how much better you will look and feel.