The Best Exercise for Insulin Resistance

July 17, 2023


If you suspect you have insulin resistance, you’ll want to know what you can do about it. What’s the best exercise for insulin resistance? This blog post will cover what exercise does to reduce insulin resistance, which exercise is best, and how you can see results, consistently. Whether you’re a fitness enthusiast or struggle with the word ‘consistency’, this blog is packed with juicy nuggets to help you manage insulin resistance and boost your fertility.

Understanding Insulin Resistance

Insulin resistance can manifest through unexplained fatigue, sugar cravings, stubborn belly fat, bloating, increased thirst and urination, and changes in your skin. In our previous blog, we discussed how diet plays a crucial role in causing or treating insulin resistance. But today, we’re focusing on the sweat zone—exercise!

Five Ways Exercise Reduces Insulin Resistance

Exercise works wonders in combating insulin resistance. Let’s explore five ways it directly addresses this condition:

  1. Immediate Glucose Utilization: When we’re active, our muscles require more energy. To meet this demand, our body starts extracting glucose from the bloodstream, even without the help of insulin. This process helps lower blood sugar levels.
  2. Increased Insulin Receptors: Regular exercise boosts the number of insulin receptors on our cells. These receptors act as docking stations for insulin, improving its efficiency in attaching to cells. With more receptors, insulin can unlock the doors of our cells, facilitating glucose uptake.
  3. Enhanced Mitochondrial Function: Exercise improves the functioning of our mitochondria—the tiny powerhouses within our cells. These powerhouses convert glucose into usable energy. Regular exercise enhances mitochondrial activity, making them more efficient at utilizing glucose and preventing its buildup in the bloodstream.
  4. Weight Management: Exercise helps reduce excess body weight, which is closely linked to insulin resistance. By burning calories, exercise promotes weight loss or maintenance. Maintaining a healthy weight is beneficial for improving insulin sensitivity and reducing resistance.
  5. Release of Beneficial Substances: Exercise stimulates the release of substances like adiponectin, which improve the body’s response to insulin and reduce inflammation—an often associated factor in insulin resistance.

What Exercise is Best to Beat Insulin Resistance?

Now that we understand how exercise can combat insulin resistance, let’s explore the different types of exercise and their effectiveness:

  1. Aerobic Exercise: While not the most efficient in reducing insulin resistance, aerobic exercise, such as cycling, swimming, or playing social sports, has its benefits. It offers relaxation, mental engagement, and an opportunity to zone out. Though time-consuming, it can still be a valuable part of your routine.
  2. Resistance Exercise: Resistance exercise, including bodyweight exercises, weightlifting, and Pilates, is highly effective in reducing insulin resistance. Compound movements and eccentric contractions make resistance exercise efficient and beneficial for building overall strength, improving coordination, and boosting metabolism.
    • A couple of examples of compound exercises. Think of a reverse lunge with a bicep curl or a burpee where you do a pushup on the ground, these are better than say static resistant exercises, like a single bicep curl. Or a shoulder press, where you’re working just one main muscle group at a time Think of compound exercises as a way to get more bang for your buck in terms of strength training. By incorporating these exercises into your routine, you can save time and still get a full-body workout. They’re great for building overall strength, improving coordination, and boosting your metabolism. 
    • With eccentric contractions, I want you to imagine that you are holding a dumbbell in your hand and you slowly lower it down to your side. As you are lowering the weight, your muscle is lengthening, but under tension. This lengthening of a muscle, while it is still contracting, is called an eccentric contraction. Eccentric contractions are an essential part of various exercises and activities like lowering weights during weightlifting, descending stairs, or walking downhill. Again, these help build strength, improve control, and stability, and reduce the risk of injury. Yay, benefits. 
  3. High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT): HIIT involves intense bursts of exercise followed by short rest periods. It is the most time-efficient method for reducing insulin resistance. HIIT workouts engage the entire body, increase insulin sensitivity, and yield positive results with shorter time commitments. A couple of comments though. When starting out with HIIT it’s important to increase the intensity gradually. If you’re thinking about starting because it is such an effective way of reducing insulin resistance, it’s a good idea to start small and work your way up. Definitely keep an eye on your heart rate and please don’t push yourself if you feel any niggles. When HIIT is combined with resistance exercise it becomes the most injury-prone form of exercise – because you’re doing complicated movements as quickly as possible! It’s best to play it a bit safer than be out and unable to exercise because of an injury.

What’s the Best Exercise? Consistent Exercise!

No matter the type of exercise you prefer, consistency is paramount. Exercise’s positive effects on insulin sensitivity are short-lived, meaning you must keep investing to reap long-term benefits. Even if your chosen exercise isn’t the most effective, being consistent is more important.

It doesn’t take much to see improvements in your insulin sensitivity. The positive effects of exercise are seen the next day, which is awesome. But the problem is you can’t accrue positive effects over time. You’ve got to keep putting money in the insulin bank because after stopping exercise, sensitivity to insulin is back to pre-exercise levels just four days later. That means, no matter what exercise you do, it’s all great. As long as you can be consistent. And by consistent, I mean doing it most days of the week. 

Tips for Maintaining Consistent Exercise Habits

Struggling with exercise consistency? Here are some tips that have helped my clients and me too:

  1. Find Your Exercise Sweet Spot: Embrace different exercise options until you discover what you genuinely enjoy. Whether it’s barre, swimming, Pilates, weights, or HIIT, choose exercises that bring you joy and align with your preferences.
  2. Embrace Variety: Keep your exercise routine interesting by incorporating different activities. Having multiple options allows you to adapt to how you feel on any given day and prevents monotony.
  3. Start Small: Going from zero to hero in one day sets you up for failure. Begin with small goals and gradually increase your exercise frequency. Building consistency over time leads to long-term success.
  4. Make It Fun: Gamify your pre-exercise routine to increase motivation. Play your favorite dance track during workouts, challenge yourself during ad breaks, or reward yourself with a long, relaxing shower afterward. Adding elements of fun can make exercise more enticing.
  5. Seek Accountability: Join challenges, hire a personal trainer, or find workout buddies who exercise regularly. Surrounding yourself with motivated individuals can help keep you accountable and inspire you to stay consistent.

Which exercise is best? The one you do regularly.

You’re now equipped with knowledge about the remarkable impact of exercise on reducing insulin resistance. Whether you choose aerobic exercise, resistance training, or high-intensity intervals, the key is to be consistent. Remember, exercise is an investment in your health and fertility. So lace up your shoes, put on your favorite workout gear, and embark on this exciting journey toward improved insulin sensitivity, increased fertility, and a healthier future!

Thank you for sticking with me to the end! If you have any questions or comments, feel free to reach out via email at or connect with me on Instagram at @ohgoodness_nutrition.

Written by Hannah Eriksen

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