The way your body responds to insulin has an enormous impact on your overall health. Insulin helps your body control how it uses glucose, or blood sugar. Increased insulin sensitivity is a preferred state — it means that your body is better able to process sugar and use glucose for energy.

The opposite of insulin sensitivity is insulin resistance, which is linked to obesity and type 2 diabetes. People with insulin resistance don’t use insulin effectively, which means that their cells can’t absorb glucose. This causes a buildup of blood sugar, leading to hyperglycemia — a hallmark of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. High blood sugar can cause headaches, fatigue, blurred vision, and difficulty concentrating. Over time, severely elevated blood sugar levels can lead to organ damage and impair the immune system.

How exercise improves glucose control

There are numerous measures you can take to improve glucose control, but exercise may have the biggest impact. Physical activity has been shown to have a positive effect on insulin response in most people. Individuals with a common variation in the LIPC gene have an even greater glucose response to exercise. According to a 2005 study, people with C/C or C/T genotypes at a marker in the LIPC gene experienced better insulin sensitivity responses to regular exercise.

Combining cardio with weight training appears to be the most effective approach. Cardio workouts — any exercise that increases your heart rate, such as running, cycling, or jumping rope — burn more glucose per session. Weight training increases your muscle mass, and muscle burns a combination of fat and glucose almost all of the time, even when you’re resting. The more muscle you have, the more glucose you burn.

During exercise, the body burns glycogen, a form of glucose that is stored in the muscles. After exercise, your muscles replenish these glycogen stores with glucose from the bloodstream. The more glycogen you burn during your workout, the longer your insulin response is improved. Following intense, longer periods of activity, your glucose response may be improved for 1-2 days. Shorter, lower-intensity activities may not have a prolonged effect on glucose control, since they don’t burn as much glycogen.

To improve blood glucose control on an ongoing basis, try to exercise at least once every two days, and aim for more intense workouts, including weight training.

Other ways to improve insulin sensitivity

Eating a healthy diet also has an impact on your body’s ability to control glucose. Be mindful of carbohydrate intake. Everyone requires different levels of macronutrients — carbs, protein, and fat — and someone who is mostly sedentary or overweight does not need as many carbs as an athlete who burns a lot of calories. A 2012 study showed that overweight individuals with insulin resistance or diabetes experienced improved blood glucose control on a low-carb diet. Your individual genetic report can help you determine the best diet for you based on numerous genetic factors.

Choose complex carbohydrates that are lower on the glycemic index, such as fruits and vegetables, rather than refined carbohydrates such as bread and pasta.

Certain foods can also help improve insulin sensitivity, including vinegar, green tea, and nuts. Vinegar improves the function of the pancreas so that your body releases less insulin in response to the foods you eat. This is helpful because the body can sometimes overestimate the amount of insulin needed after a meal and release too much.

Also make sure you are choosing the right fats. Avoid trans fats, and include omega-3 fatty acids in your diet. Try to get your omega-6 to omega-3 ratio as close to equal as possible by eating fatty fish such as salmon, herring, and mackerel, and by taking an omega-3 supplement.

Your personalized genetic report can reveal how your body responds to different types of exercises and foods, so that you can develop an ideal exercise and diet plan that will help you increase energy, prevent disease, and feel your best. Download a sample report from Vivaliti DNA to discover everything you get with your genetic report!