Recently I have been reading an interesting book discussing the causes of obesity and the health conditions associated with being overweight or obese. Insulin resistance is a term that is used to describe when the body becomes resistant to insulin (insulin is the hormone that moves sugars in the blood to the cells that need energy e.g. muscle cells for exercise) – however in this state the body does not respond to insulin and therefore sugars build up in the blood and eventually can cause type 2 diabetes.
Quite often before people are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, their doctor may tell them they are ‘insulin resistant’. Insulin resistance doesn’t happen overnight, the body will begin to produce larger amounts of insulin to try and reduce blood sugar levels and get the sugar into cells where it is needed for energy, and over time insulin levels slowly increase above normal levels. We know that insulin is a ‘storing’ hormone meaning it stores energy (sugar) for later use in either muscle for energy or as fat if it is not used. So higher amounts of insulin cause more storage of energy, and over many years if not decades leads to weight gain.
So how do we keep insulin levels low?
This book discusses the importance of keeping insulin levels low to avoid weight gain. There are a few important nutritional facts to consider:
- 3 main meals – rather than constantly ‘grazing’ throughout the day
- If we think of how our grandparents and older generations were raised, there was no such thing as ‘snacking’
- Most people during this time would have 3 square meals per day thus insulin levels would return to normal levels in between meals
- Society has changed in the fact that it is acceptable to eat in most places these days e.g. in the car, in movies, shopping centres which means we have adopted more of a ‘grazing’ attitude to food
- Carbohydrates raise insulin levels but most importantly the type of carbohydrate will determine how quickly and how much insulin is raised
- Highly processed, sugary carbohydrates will increase insulin (and blood sugar) very quickly
- Low G.I carbohydrates e.g. brown pasta, wholemeal bread will cause a slower rise in insulin
- The balance of each meal
- We think of the 3 macronutrients i.e. fat, protein and carbohydrates as the composition of all our meals
- Carbohydrates have the greatest effect on insulin, and fat has the least effect on insulin levels
- A well balanced meal is the key to maintaining normal insulin levels
What will exercise do for me?
Exercise, in particular, is very effective at managing insulin resistance as it stimulates the cells and muscles to become more sensitive to insulin – which means more sugar in your blood actually gets into the cells that need it for energy production. This, in turn, results in a lower blood sugar level, and thus a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. Resistance or strength training has a significant effect on blood sugar levels and insulin resistance as it not only causes the cells to become more sensitive to insulin but it also allows for a greater area for the blood sugar to be dispersed into. This means the more muscle you have from regular resistance training, the more area for your blood sugar to go to.
Of course, those who have type 2 diabetes or need insulin medication, it is best to speak to your medical practitioner about the best course of action. If you are interested in how exercise and a healthy lifestyle will manage these conditions, speak to your exercise physiologist