Exercise & Insulin

When many of us hear the word “insulin” we think of diabetes or associate it with something bad…scary….avoid at all costs!

Insulin is not the enemy. In reality, we all need insulin—and for good reason. This hormone is released in the pancreas by your beta cells. It helps keep your blood sugar from rising too high by letting it enter cells in your body for later usage. When someone becomes insulin resistant or eventually develops type II diabetes, this means they require a lot of insulin to lower their blood glucose. Too much circulating blood glucose is dangerous as it damages our blood vessels, leading to obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, and even types of cancer. Contrast this to low levels of circulating insulin: associated with a longer life and less risk of overall disease.

So how does exercise play a role in lowering insulin? Well, there are many studies that have been conducted on the relationship between exercise—particularly resistance training and harder aerobic sessions—and insulin in the body.

Research shows that exercising can increase glucose uptake by at least 40%, with this increased sensitivity lasting somewhere between 48 and 72 hours depending on the intensity of exercise. In other words, when you train with a moderate to hard effort, your body is more efficient at tolerating larger amounts of sugar in the bloodstream. Therefore, less insulin is required to lower your blood sugar.

So what kind of exercise is most effective in keeping you insulin sensitive? Well, the good news is many different kinds work: strength training, bodyweight training, anaerobic and aerobic exercises all improve insulin sensitivity. When combined with a diet that is full of healthy proteins, fats, vegetables, fruits, and slower-digesting carbohydrates, you drastically improve your insulin sensitivity and greatly lower your risk for insulin resistance or type II diabetes.