Insulin Sensitivity: What it is and 4 Ways to Improve it Without Medication

By ErinRose Baldry

Insulin Sensitivity: What it is and 4 Ways to Improve it Without Medication

Insulin is an essential hormone produced in the pancreas that regulates blood sugar levels. It effectively helps convert sugar from your blood into your cells as stored glucose (or energy for later usage). When the body’s cells are insulin resistant, they are unable to use insulin efficiently. This in turn results in elevated blood sugar, above a healthy target range (70-130mg/dL). If the pancreas detects elevated blood sugar, this triggers the production of more insulin to overcome the resistance and lower blood sugar back to an in range level. 

Insulin Resistance

Over time, the process of over producing insulin can deplete the pancreas of insulin-producing cells, which is common in people living with type 2 diabetes. Moreover, prolonged and unregulated high blood sugar can damage nerves and organs. Individuals are most at risk of insulin resistance if they already have prediabetes, or a family history of type 2 diabetes, as well as if you are overweight or obese. If you have insulin resistance, you have low insulin sensitivity. Conversely, if you are sensitive to insulin, you have low insulin resistance.

Insulin Sensitivity

Insulin sensitivity refers to how responsive your cells are to insulin. More specifically, the relationship between how much insulin needs to be produced in order to deposit a certain amount of glucose in the bloodstream. You are insulin sensitive if a small amount of insulin needs to be secreted to deposit a certain amount of glucose, and insulin resistant if a lot of insulin needs to be secreted to deposit the same amount of glucose. Improving insulin sensitivity can help you reduce insulin resistance and the risk of many diseases, including diabetes.

Looking to enhance your insulin sensitivity is a smart and healthy decision regardless of whether you are already living with diabetes, or not. Being insulin sensitive ensures that your body properly utilizes food and converts the correct amount of glucose for energy into the bloodstream in the most efficient way possible.

How do I improve insulin sensitivity (aka become less resistant to insulin)? 

1. Eat the right foods

Eating the right food means making smart food choices, it does not strictly mean low carbohydrate either, but it does mean the right type of carbohydrates. Well-nourished bodies function better, and more efficiently utilize and burn calories for energy. As opposed to unhealthy foods which quickly store calories consumed into unwanted fat. Focus on portion control and a well balanced diet high in fiber, and foods that are low glycemic. Consume mostly vegetables, some fruit and healthy whole grains, lean protein and lots of water. Avoid added sugar and sodium. Limit junk food and food that is processed or pre-prepared (which are often very high in sodium, sugar, artificial ingredients and additives), none of which offer nutritional benefits. Limit alcohol, nicotine and caffeine. The more colorful your plate is, the better (colors that occur naturally from vegetables and fruits). These foods are rich in compounds that help increase insulin sensitivity. Be mindful of fruit consumption in a single serving. Although the sugar is natural, some fruits are very high in sugar content (high glycemic) and should be eaten in smaller portions and moderation, much like dessert.

2. Exercise more

The benefits of regular exercise are countless. They include enhancing insulin sensitivity, reducing stress, releasing endorphins, lowering cholesterol, reducing blood pressure and aiding weight management and/or loss. Consistent exercise and movement also help to restore the nervous system and increase blood circulation. Aim for a minimum of at least 30 minutes of active movement daily.

3. Get more sleep

The average adult requires 7-8 hours of sleep each night. Try sticking to a regular bedtime and wake up time, the body craves consistency and functions optimally on a circadian rhythm, or regular routine and body clock. Lack of sleep and rest impairs the body's ability to restore and recharge. Prioritize a good night’s sleep.

4. Reduce stress

Unwanted stress can lead to diabetes, obesity, depression, anxiety, heart disease, high blood pressure, gastrointestinal trouble and other mental and physical problems. Managing and reducing stress levels are key to overall health and wellness. Make plenty of time for mental breaks throughout your working day, remain in contact with loved ones, pursue a hobby, exercise, practice stress reducing activities such as yoga, and lastly, if you feel overwhelmed by negative emotions, speak with a mental health specialist as soon as possible.

Insulin resistance results in chronically high blood sugar levels, a known risk factor for developing diabetes and heart disease. Insulin is also an important hormone that is vital to a healthy body. Practice implementing these suggestions as part of a healthy lifestyle to increase your insulin sensitivity and lower your risk of disease.

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Orignially published on September 18, 2020, updated on September 22, 2020

Topic: Diabetes Management

ErinRose Baldry

About ErinRose Baldry

ErinRose Baldry is an ACE Nutrition Specialist and Certified Personal Trainer. She integrates her knowledge in fitness, wellness, cooking and nutrition to offer dynamic, engaging, relevant information for her clients and in her writing. She provides effective, manageable guidance and tips for all populations who aim to be the best version of themselves both in health and fitness. In addition, she advocates for local charities and educates families on the importance of healthy eating, nutrition and exercise.