How do you improve Insulin Sensitivity with Exercise?

Robert Maalouf, CSCS FMSC CPT CF-L1
Owner - Personal Trainer
Le Gym by Robert Maalouf

Insulin resistance is a condition in which the cells in the body fail to properly process and utilize the hormone insulin. The question arises, why do we become insulin resistant, and how do we prevent it? In order to further understand the concept of insulin resistance we must first understand the basic function of insulin. In healthy individuals, the cells in the body recognize and use insulin. As our cells become desensitized to insulin, the cells begin to require more insulin to maintain normal blood sugar levels.

So how do you improve insulin sensitivity? There are two answers to this question, diet and exercise. As an exercise specialist, I focus on the latter of the two. It is a widely accepted fact that exercise improves health, however, it is crucial to understand specifically what

type of exercise is most beneficial for diabetics. Heavy resistance training has been shown to be the most effective way to improve insulin sensitivity, yet as a professional in the field, I see most people primarily performing cardio and lacking resistance training. Cardiovascular training definitely has its place in every exercise regime, however if improving insulin sensitivity is the main goal, heavy resistance training must be incorporated.

In order to determine the appropriate amount of weight that suits you, I recommend working with weights at about 80% of your 1RM (RM is the most amount of weight you can perform for one repetition). If you are using weights that are too light then you will hinder your progress and have minimal effects on improving insulin sensitivity. For example a female who can bench press a maximum of 31kgs (70lbs) should be normally working with a weight of at least 25kgs (55lbs) or more. Do not be intimidated by these weights! This is where professional assistance comes into play. As a personal trainer I know each clients limits and work with that to push them to maximize their efforts during the workout. I have worked with several diabetic clients, and they have been some of my greatest success stories. After working with me for just a few months, my type 1 diabetics use less insulin than ever before and several of my type 2 diabetic clients completely stop insulin use! The only thing that changed in their daily routines was that these clients were now strength training with the appropriate intensity and to most of them that meant using weights that they originally thought were too heavy for them.

It is essential to understand the role the resistance training plays in preventing, reversing, and managing your diabetes. Without question it should be part of everyone’s exercise regime. I would definitely encourage you to find a well qualified trainer/coach if you are not experienced with resistance training. They will help you determine how much you are able to lift, they will push you to train harder and they will make sure you are training with proper form and technique. Don’t let diabetes control your life, start resistance training today and begin your journey to a life where you control diabetes!

Sources: Dube, J., Fleishman, K., Exercise Dose
and Insulin Sensitivity: Relevance for Diabetes Prevention. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. November 2011. Published Ahead of Print.

Thyfault, J., Booth, F. Lack of Regular Physical Exercise or Too Much Inactivity. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutritional and Metabolic Care. July 2011. 14(4), 374-378.

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