One unexpected benefit of the COVID-19 pandemic is the increased awareness of healthy eating and lifestyle, per a 2021 study in Appetite. While this is undoubtedly a positive finding, metabolic health is one vital aspect of our well-being that continues to fly under the radar. Chiefly, insulin resistance—a silent disruptor that affects millions of people worldwide. Insulin resistance occurs when your cells don’t respond effectively to insulin, leading to elevated blood sugar levels and potential health issues, including type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease and metabolic syndrome, per a 2020 review in Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome and Obesity

According to StatPearls, every 2 in 5 U.S. adults aged 18 to 44 have insulin resistance. Fortunately, we have good news: this metabolic condition isn’t a life sentence. With the proper lifestyle adjustments, you can reverse insulin resistance and improve your metabolic health and overall well-being for good. Keep reading to learn more.

What It Means to Reverse Insulin Resistance

In order to reverse your insulin resistance, your body needs to restore its ability to respond efficiently to insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar. This change involves improving your cells’ responsiveness to insulin signals, enabling them to better use glucose (blood sugar) for energy and reduce your risk of high blood sugar levels.

“Reversing insulin resistance basically means that you are improving the body’s response to insulin, allowing cells to take up glucose from the blood for energy more effectively,” explains Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDCES, a registered dietitian and author of 2-Day Diabetes Diet. “This can be achieved through various lifestyle changes, including regular exercise, dietary changes, improved sleep and reduced stress.”

4 Ways You Can Help Reverse Insulin Resistance

Engage in Daily Exercise

Research, specifically a 2021 article in Comprehensive Physiology, indicates that daily exercise can improve blood sugar uptake by muscles to enhance insulin sensitivity. Insulin sensitivity means how your cells respond to insulin. Consistent movement, whether it’s a brisk walk, strength training or a yoga session, can significantly boost your metabolic health.

“Add 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week. Regular physical activity, including aerobic exercise and strength training, can improve insulin sensitivity and help the body use glucose more effectively. Exercise promotes glucose uptake by the muscles, which can reduce insulin resistance,” says Palinski-Wade.

Maintain a Balanced Diet

A metabolically friendly diet includes nutrient-dense foods that are high in fiber and protein, such as whole grains, lean proteins and an abundance of colorful fruits and vegetables. According to a 2021 study in the Iranian Journal of Public Health, you can support your body’s insulin function by balancing macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats and protein) and choosing low-glycemic foods that can help regulate blood sugar levels.

“Carbohydrates break down into simple sugars, which can elevate blood glucose levels and insulin,” Palinski-Wade explains. “By balancing your plate with protein, fat and fiber at each meal along with carbohydrates, you can improve your post-meal glucose levels, improving insulin resistance over time.”

Manage Stress

“Chronic stress can contribute to insulin resistance, so finding ways to manage stress can be beneficial. Belly breathing is simple and effective and can be done anywhere at any time of day,” says Palinski-Wade.

A 2022 review published in Cureus concluded that chronic stress can elevate cortisol levels, leading to insulin resistance. Incorporating stress-reducing practices, like mindfulness, deep breathing or yoga, can help you better manage stress and improve your body’s insulin response.

Prioritize Sleep

Research suggests that a lack of quality sleep can throw your hormone balance out of whack and increase your risk of insulin resistance, per a 2022 review in Cureus. Quality sleep can help improve metabolic functions and, therefore, can help optimize insulin sensitivity and support overall health, per a 2021 article in Nursing Clinics of North America

“Not getting enough sleep can reduce insulin sensitivity, so aiming for seven to nine hours of quality sleep per night is important for reversing insulin resistance,” states Palinski-Wade. “To improve sleep, avoid caffeine at least eight to ten hours before bedtime, remove distractions and electronics from the bedroom, and stick to a regular sleep-and-wake schedule.”

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you reverse insulin resistance permanently?

Yes, you can permanently reverse insulin resistance with healthy lifestyle changes. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases recommends adopting a holistic approach that includes regular exercise, a balanced diet, stress management and adequate sleep for sustainable improvements in insulin sensitivity and long-term metabolic health.

2. What’s the fastest way to cure insulin resistance?

While there’s no overnight cure or one-size-fits-all solution, the fastest way to address insulin resistance is a multifaceted approach. Regular physical activity, adopting a nutrient-dense diet, managing stress effectively and prioritizing quality sleep all contribute to swift improvements in insulin sensitivity.

How long does it take to reverse insulin resistance?

The timeline for reversing insulin resistance varies from person to person. With consistent lifestyle changes, some may experience improvements in weeks or months. Remember, consistently maintaining healthy habits is essential for reversing insulin resistance.

When is it too late to reverse insulin resistance?

It’s never too late to address insulin resistance. Regardless of age or how long you’ve had insulin resistance, healthy lifestyle changes can improve your metabolic health.

The Bottom Line

If you’re one of the millions living with insulin resistance, take comfort in knowing you don’t have to. Adopting healthy lifestyle habits, such as regular exercise, eating a balanced diet, managing stress and sleeping well, is critical for boosting your metabolic health and improving insulin sensitivity. Speak with your health care provider or a registered dietitian to learn how your lifestyle and dietary choices can improve your insulin resistance and overall health.

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