5 Ways to Improve Insulin Sensitivity

5 ways to improve insulin sensitivity

Insulin is a hormone that helps to keep our blood glucose (aka blood sugar) in check.  It works to change the glucose we consume (via sugars, starches, etc.) into usable energy.  Insulin sensitivity is how sensitive the body’s cells are to insulin.  A high insulin sensitivity is a good thing; it means that we are effectively processing the glucose that we consume.  A low insulin sensitivity (aka insulin resistance) means that we are not properly processing glucose.  Approximately 38% of American adults have some level of insulin resistance.  This could be due to: having excess body fat (especially belly fat), a lack of exercise, a diet high in sugar, smoking, or a lack of sleep.  When we increase our insulin resistance, we are not able to properly convert food into energy.  This can cause us to gain weight, is bad for our metabolic health, and significantly increases our risk type 2 diabetes. While there are tons of ways in which we can improve insulin sensitivity, this article will cover five of the strategies that can provide the most bang for you buck in terms of effort and time. 

Prioritize Sleep

sleep and improved insulin sensitivity

Even one night of partial sleep deprivation can increase insulin resistance. While we know it is challenging to get the recommended amount of sleep, any little bit will help improve insulin sensitivity. Research has shown that extending our sleep by just one hour per day can significantly improve insulin sensitivity. 

In diabetics, researchers have found that individuals who sleep poorly have higher insulin resistance. For diabetics, blood sugar control is incredibly important for their safety so anyway in which we can make it easier to manage the disease will improve their quality of life. Diabetics who are poor sleepers can have up to 82% higher insulin resistance when compared to diabetics who sleep normally. This is a huge difference and can significantly impact their health. 

High-Intensity Interval Training  

high-intensity interval training and insulin sensitivity

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a popular way to workout because it is both an effective way to help us reach our health goals and is an incredibly efficient workout. While there are multiple different types of HIIT workouts (Tabata, 10-by-1, or 4-by-4) the general structure involves alternating short bouts of high-intensity exercise at 80-95% of maximal heart rate, with low-intensity activity at 40-50% of maximal heart rate. An example of such a workout would be 20 seconds of intense activity followed by 10 seconds of recovery. This 30-second block is then repeated multiple times until the workout is completed.

There is nothing particularly special about the mode of exercise (bike, run, swim, etc.) or the duration of the high-intensity interval. The most important aspect is that your exercise is high-intensity. High-intensity efforts rely on glucose as the predominant fuel source. This means that in order to adequately fuel our workout, the body pulls glucose from circulation and shuttles it to the working muscles. Since we are stabilizing our own blood sugar through exercise, we have a decreased need for insulin to reduce glucose levels. In addition to having a decreased reliance on insulin during a workout, high-intensity exercise has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity.

Shoot for at least 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity each week. This 75-mintues does not have to be all at once, break it down into two or three sessions. One of the beauties of HIIT is that it can be incorporated into almost any mode of exercise.  Whether your go-to is a bodyweight circuit in your living room, a run down the street, or an indoor bike ride, you can design your own effective HIIT program.

Try Chromium

chromium and insulin sensitivity

Chromium is an essential mineral commonly found in broccoli. It helps to regulate insulin and cholesterol, Surprisingly, broccoli is not a common favorite food; up to 90% of Americans are not consuming enough chromium in their daily diet.  Before you scroll past this tip in utter defiance of eating vegetables, you should know that chromium can also be found in shellfish, meat, wine, whole wheat, and brewer’s yeast.

A specific type of chromium, chromium picolinate, has been shown to be a safe way to significantly improve insulin sensitivity. Chromium picolinate has been shown to be effective when consumed in doses ranging from 200-1000 ug. Each GOOD IDEA has 500 ug of chromium picolinate. 

Reduce Stress

reduce stress to improve insulin sensitivity

We know how tough it is to reduce stress. Between work, family, responsibilities, and an attempt at a social life, finding ways to relax is challenging. However, prioritizing stress relief can play a large role in our metabolic health.

An abundance of stress, whether it is emotional, physical, or mental triggers the release of the hormones cortisol and glucagon. These stress hormones break down glycogen into glucose and release it into the bloodstream, which elevates blood sugar levels. When we have chronically high-stress levels, the amount of cortisol and glucagon in circulation remains high. This results in blood sugar that is elevated for extended periods of time.

In addition to increasing blood sugar, these hormones make the body more insulin resistant, hindering the body’s ability to pull the excess glucose from circulation and put it to use as fuel. Given the high preponderance of people that experience ongoing stress, finding ways to reduce this stress and improve insulin sensitivity is likely beneficial for the majority of Americans.

Eat More Soluble Fiber

soluble fibers helps to improve insulin sensitivity

There are two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber is the type that dissolves in water to form a gel-like material. It has been shown to help lower cholesterol and reduce appetite and improve insulin sensitivity. One of the ways in which it works is to help promote the growth of a certain bacteria in the gut that is associated with increased insulin sensitivity.

While there are no dietary reference intake guidelines for how much soluble fiber we should consume, many experts recommend eating eight grams of soluble fiber each day. Beans, citrus, carrots, apples, oats, and barley are all great options that are high in soluble fiber.  

How can we Increase Insulin Sensitivity?

Getting as much sleep as possible is a great place to start. Just one extra hour per night can have a dramatic effect on our metabolic health and insulin sensitivity. Exercise is another way to get a lot of metabolic health improvements in a small amount of time. Exercise helps to utilize some of the glucose in the blood to fuel your workouts. In this way, it takes glucose out of the bloodstream and puts it to use. This helps to bring the concentration of glucose in the blood down to normal ranges. Altering our diet by reducing sugar intake and increasing our consumption of soluble fiber helps to keep our blood sugar stable and not make our insulin work as hard. Lastly, consuming chromium may help. Research has shown that consuming 200 to 1000 ug of chromium picolinate significantly improves insulin sensitivity.

 

Author: Dr. Colleen Gulick