The major reasons that people stop (or fail to begin) regular exercise are perceived lack of time, injuries from workouts, inconvenience, loss of motivation, and difficulty of workouts. By varying your activities from day to day, you can fit in whatever you have time for more easily, you’re less likely to injure yourself, you can pick activities that are convenient for you on any given day, your motivation is likely to stay higher, and the exercise won’t feel too hard for you since you’ll have plenty of time to recover between more intense workouts.
To improve your insulin sensitivity, aerobic training should either be more intense for an extended period of time (such as during the “pick up the pace” training mentioned earlier) or just during interspersed intervals (like periodically walking faster between two mailboxes or telephone poles) during the whole activity.
Resistance work (with weights or rubber resistance bands) will benefit you the most if you build up to a weight or resistance that you can lift with good form at least 8 times but not more than 12 times in each set. (Plan to do one to three sets of 8–12 repetitions per exercise.) When you’re first starting out with resistance training, however, it’s OK to work with lighter weights or less resistance while you familiarize yourself with the equipment and exercises.
See the sample weekly plan for an example of an alternating schedule of activities that can help to optimize insulin sensitivity.
Other insulin sensitizers
In addition to performing more physical activity, losing excess body fat is well known to improve insulin sensitivity, and other factors can help, too. For instance, avoiding elevated blood glucose levels after meals can improve your insulin sensitivity. You can prevent such elevations by choosing foods with a higher fiber content and lower glycemic index and glycemic load (such as vegetables and legumes) and, if you take insulin, adjusting your premeal doses according to the amount of carbohydrate in the meal. Exercising just before meals can also help to lower after-meal blood glucose levels since insulin sensitivity is heightened right after exercise.
You can also lower your insulin resistance by getting enough sleep, moderating your stress levels (exercise can help with this), and reducing your body’s level of inflammation (which can also be accomplished through physical activity and better food choices). For more ways to increase insulin sensitivity, see “Insulin Sensitizers in Brief.”
You can exert a large amount of control over how effectively your insulin works in your body, and being insulin sensitive has many health benefits. If you take insulin, a heightened sensitivity may allow you to lower your insulin doses. If you take insulin-sensitizing oral medicines, these prescriptions will work more effectively, and you may also end up requiring smaller doses. Regardless of any medicines you take, improving your insulin sensitivity — particularly when you accomplish this goal through increased and varied physical activity — is a winning proposition for your diabetes control and your overall health.