Insulin Resistance Countered by Exercise
Insulin resistance is a subtle condition which greatly increases a person's chances of developing Type II diabetes and heart disease. It has become much more common in the last 20 years due to our increasingly sedentary nature and troublesome eating habits. Fortunately, insulin resistance and the diseases it causes can be avoided with a healthy diet and plenty of exercise.
The Ins-and-Outs of Insulin
Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas and utilized by cells in the uptake of glucose. When we ingest foods containing sugars or carbohydrates (found in pretty much everything), enzymes in our digestive tracts break them down into simple sugars such as glucose. Glucose is used by our cells to create energy. But our cells cannot take up glucose without the help of insulin.
What Is Insulin Resistance?
Insulin resistance results as cells become less responsive to insulin. Our bodies have a magnificent ability to adapt. But they can also adapt to excess amounts of insulin (say, in response to eating sugary, processed foods on a regular basis) by dampening cells' response to insulin. Glucose is then less efficiently absorbed by cells, causing the pancreas to produce more insulin. Eventually, the body's cells will become so deadened to an insulin stimulus that excessive amounts of glucose will accumulate in the blood. Such a condition can quickly progress into diabetes.
What Causes Insulin Resistance?
Insulin resistance can be caused by several things. The fact that it runs in families strongly suggests that a person's genes are partly to blame. However excess weight from poor diet and lack of exercise is also a major player. Too much fat inhibits muscle cells' ability to utilize insulin. Lack of exercise also results in decreased muscle mass, further compounding the problem.
Who Is At Risk for Developing Insulin Resistance?
Risk factors for developing insulin resistance include being older than 40, being a member of more at-risk ethnic groups such as Latino, African American, and Native American, have a history of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), have a family history of Type II diabetes, hypertension, or cardiovascular disease, have more fat around the waist than hips, or have a BMI over 25.
Can Insulin Resistance Be Prevented?
Certainly! Although genetics cannot be helped, many of the risk factors for developing insulin resistance can definitely be avoided. Eating a healthy diet by limiting caloric intake and staying away from sugary, processed foods is a great way to prevent insulin resistance. Regular exercise is also essential. Exercise increases your cells' need for energy. Stored sugars and fats require insulin to be moved into cells and burned for energy. As more insulin is produced, blood glucose levels drop. In response, your body produces less insulin, resulting in increased insulin sensitivity (i.e. the opposite of insulin resistance). Also, exercising muscles causes the creation of more muscle cells, further enhancing your ability to efficiently utilize insulin. Insulin resistance is a reality for many overweight and obese children and adults. However with proper diet and sufficient exercise, insulin resistance doesn't have to develop into diabetes or heart disease.