Diabetes Self-Management Articles

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Insulin Resistance
What It Is and Why It Matters

by Rita Carey Rubin, MS, RD, CDE

Your genetic inheritance, however, probably plays the biggest role in determining whether or not you develop insulin resistance. In fact, Dr. Reaven estimates that genes account for about half of your risk. But he also adds that while you may not be able to completely avoid or reverse insulin resistance if you have the genetic tendency for it, having a healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise and nutritious food choices will definitely keep you healthier.

According to a joint statement on Type 2 diabetes and exercise by the American Diabetes Association and the American College of Sports Medicine, moderate activity can increase the movement of glucose from the blood to the muscle cells both during and up to several hours after exercise. In fact, evidence suggests that a single bout of moderate exercise (such as a brisk 30-minute walk) can lower blood glucose levels and reduce insulin resistance for up to 72 hours in some people. Regular exercise can also help your body burn fat for energy.

The joint statement recommends exercising for a minimum of 150 minutes per week for people with Type 2 diabetes or prediabetes. Practicing your favorite form of movement (brisk walking, Zumba, hiking, biking, or other moderate to vigorous activity) in bouts of 10 minutes or more, and with no more than two days between exercise sessions, will produce the best results. In addition, resistance exercise (such as weight lifting, Pilates, yoga, or other forms of exercise that strengthen, tone, and build muscle) should be practiced at least twice a week (but ideally three times) on nonconsecutive days.

Weight loss
Weight loss often has dramatic effects on blood glucose levels. In fact, both Reaven and Wood state that losing 10–15 pounds is the best thing most overweight people can do to reduce insulin resistance. Weight loss requires burning more calories than you take in, and combining dietary changes with exercise is the most effective way to lose weight and keep it off.

Avoid fad diets, which often result in quick, but not lasting, weight loss. Instead, consider ways to reduce your calorie intake by 350–500 calories a day while adding about 30 minutes of brisk exercise. Slow, steady weight loss (about one to two pounds per week) resulting from gradual, sustainable changes in your diet and physical activity level is the healthiest way to reduce insulin resistance and get blood glucose levels under control.

Changing fat intake
Evidence strongly suggests that saturated fat and trans fat increase insulin resistance and adversely affect health in other ways — for example, by raising LDL (low-density lipoprotein, or “bad”) cholesterol levels and the risk of cardiovascular disease. Therefore, it is wise to reduce your intake of foods containing these types of fat.

Check out the ingredients lists on food products when you shop for groceries. If partially hydrogenated oil is an ingredient, the product contains trans fat and should be avoided. Foods that contain large amounts of saturated fat include cheese, butter, lard, sour cream, and meat. Cut back on these foods, and reduce your portion sizes when you do eat them.

Rethink your plate
The MyPlate guide from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is a great tool to help you plan healthy meals. This guide recommends that you fill most (more than 3/4) of your plate with nutrient-rich, low-fat plant foods, including vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. By filling up on these foods, while taking care not to add a lot of high-fat condiments such as butter, cheese, or sour cream, you can reduce your intake of calories and saturated fat. A smaller space on the plate is reserved for high-protein foods such as meat, chicken, fish, or eggs. Visit www.choosemyplate.gov for more information.

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Also in this article:
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