Lifestyle factors and insulin resistance

Insulin resistance is a metabolic issue where cells cannot use insulin effectively despite the body still producing insulin. This results in glucose remaining in the bloodstream, leading to high blood sugar levels, also known as hyperglycemia.

Manuela Băbuș
Medical Writer
Lifestyle factors and insulin resistance

Insulin is a hormone that helps the body manage blood sugar levels by allowing glucose to enter the cells and providing energy for everyday functions. Produced by the pancreas, insulin acts as a key that unlocks the cells, allowing glucose from the food to enter and fuel the body.

Insulin is also responsible for storing glucose in excess in the liver and muscles for later use. 

Insulin resistance, also known as impaired insulin sensitivity, occurs when the body becomes less responsive to insulin, reducing its effectiveness. This means that more insulin is required to persuade fat and muscle cells to take up glucose and for the liver to continue storing it.

Insulin resistance can vary in severity. The more insulin resistant a person is, the more challenging it becomes to manage diabetes, as higher medication doses are needed to achieve target blood glucose levels.

The exact reasons why some individuals fail to respond properly to insulin are still not fully understood. However, there are ways to improve the body's receptiveness to insulin, which can help prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes.

Research indicates that insulin resistance, even in the absence of diabetes, is associated with an increased risk of heart disease.

The consequences of insulin resistance

When the body encounters insulin resistance, the pancreas compensates by producing larger amounts of insulin to keep cells energized and blood glucose levels in check. 

Consequently, individuals with type 2 diabetes often exhibit elevated levels of circulating insulin. 

Initially, insulin resistance may not produce noticeable symptoms, as the pancreas can increase insulin production. 

However, over time, insulin resistance tends to worsen, and the pancreatic beta cells that produce insulin may become exhausted. Eventually, the pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin to overcome the cells' resistance, resulting in elevated blood glucose levels and the development of prediabetes or type 2 diabetes.

For people with diabetes, there can be issues with insulin production or its effectiveness, leading to high blood sugar levels and potential health complications.


Overeating, weight gain, and obesity are all strongly associated with insulin resistance.

Insulin resistance can be caused by various factors, including:

  • genetics
  • obesity
  • physical inactivity
  • inflammation
  • aging.

Certain genes have been identified that can increase or decrease an individual's likelihood of developing the condition. 

Age also plays a role, as older individuals are more prone to insulin resistance. Lifestyle factors, such as sedentary behavior, and being overweight, or obese, can also contribute to insulin resistance. 

The exact reasons behind these associations are not entirely clear, but researchers theorize that excess fat tissue may lead to inflammation, physiological stress, or other cellular changes that contribute to insulin resistance. 

The development of insulin resistance can be categorized into three main factors: acquired, hereditary, and mixed etiologies. 

The acquired etiology is the most common among individuals with insulin resistance.

Risk factors: 

  • visceral fat (belly fat can accumulate around internal  organs, and may release many free fatty acids into the blood, as well as inflammatory hormones that drive insulin resistance
  • have a family history of diabetes or have certain medical conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and are at increased risk of developing insulin resistance
  • problems with gut microbiota: Evidence suggests that a disruption in the bacterial environment in the gut can cause inflammation, which may worsen insulin resistance and other metabolic problems 


Insulin resistance is usually diagnosed through blood tests that measure fasting glucose and insulin levels, as well as other markers such as HbA1c and triglycerides.

The Homeostatic Model Assessment (HOMA) is a mathematical model used to estimate insulin resistance and beta-cell function in individuals. It is calculated based on fasting glucose and insulin a jeun levels and provides a measure of insulin sensitivity.


Treating insulin resistance often requires a comprehensive approach that includes lifestyle changes, medications, and targeted interventions to address associated health problems.

There are ways to make the body's cells more receptive to insulin.

Regular physical activity is one of the most effective ways to combat insulin resistance. 

Exercise can significantly reduce insulin resistance both in the short and long term. 

Physical activity not only increases insulin sensitivity and promotes the absorption of blood glucose by muscles but also provides an alternative pathway for glucose to enter muscle cells without the need

Medications such as biguanides and thiazolidinediones can also be used to improve insulin sensitivity in some cases.


Lifestyle changes can improve insulin sensitivity and reduce the risk of developing diabetes.

  • weight loss
  • regular exercise 
  • a healthy diet 

Affection related to insulin resistance

Metabolic abnormalities, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high glycemia, and high triglycerides often accompany insulin resistance. This collection of conditions is known as metabolic syndrome and is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease and other health problems.

Additionally, insulin resistance is known to contribute to the development of inflammation, oxidative stress, and endothelial dysfunction, which can further increase the risk of chronic diseases.

Insulin resistance is a metabolic condition that can have a number of health effects and can increase the risk of developing other health conditions. Here are some of the most common conditions that are associated with insulin resistance:

  • Type 2 diabetes: Insulin resistance is a significant risk factor for type 2 diabetes, which is a chronic condition in which the body is unable to use insulin properly.

  • Cardiovascular disease: Insulin resistance is also associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, which includes conditions such as heart attack, stroke, and high blood pressure.

  • Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD): Insulin resistance can lead to the accumulation of fat in the liver, which can cause NAFLD. This condition can progress to cirrhosis and liver failure.

  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): Insulin resistance is a common feature of PCOS, a hormonal disorder that can cause irregular periods, infertility, and other health problems.

  • Obesity: Insulin resistance is often associated with obesity, and can contribute to the development of further weight gain and other complications related to obesity.

  • Certain cancers: There is evidence to suggest that insulin resistance may increase the risk of certain cancers, including breast, colon, and pancreatic cancer.

  • Alzheimer's disease: There is also some evidence to suggest that insulin resistance may be a risk factor for Alzheimer's disease and other forms of cognitive decline.

  • Sleep apnea: Insulin resistance is independently associated with obstructive sleep apnea.

  • Metabolic syndrome is a condition that involves a cluster of symptoms, including abdominal obesity, high blood pressure, elevated blood triglycerides, reduced levels of HDL cholesterol, and increased blood glucose levels.

Insulin resistance and excess abdominal fat play a significant role in the development of these symptoms in individuals with metabolic syndrome.

Don’t give up!

There are effective tactics to combat insulin resistance. 

  • Losing weight, exercising more, or taking an insulin-sensitizing medication can help you get back to good blood glucose control and better health.

  • People with insulin resistance, prediabetes, or a high risk of diabetes may benefit from long-term dietary and lifestyle strategies. A “crash diet” will not reduce insulin resistance.

Sleep is considered an important lifestyle behavior for maintaining metabolic health and energy balance, especially for individuals with diabetes. Insufficient or poor-quality sleep can indeed increase the risk of developing insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes

Article Citations & Bibliography
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  6. I Kostoglou-Athanassiou, Metabolic syndrome and sleep apnea; Hippokratia. 2008 Apr-Jun; 12(2): 81–86.

Please note that the information provided on this blog is for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.

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Manuela Băbuș.
Medical Writer