If you have insulin resistance, you’re not alone -- this disorder of the body’s endocrine system affects up to 80 million Americans, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. If untreated, insulin resistance can develop into serious health problems like type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Because increased belly fat is one of the primary risk factors, treatment for insulin resistance involves lifestyle changes such as losing weight and exercising.
Insulin resistance means that your body’s muscle, fat and liver cells don’t respond normally to insulin, requiring your pancreas to produce increasing amounts of insulin to help blood glucose enter cells so it can be used as energy. All that excess glucose builds up in your bloodstream and can lead to diabetes and other diseases. Scientists have also learned that abdominal fat cells can disrupt the normal balance and functioning of hormones such as leptin and adiponectin, which are thought to play a role in your body’s response to insulin, according to Harvard University Medical School.
Left untreated, insulin resistance not only causes diabetes, but it can lead to obesity, high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease, although the relationship between insulin resistance and the development of these conditions isn't yet known, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. The AAFP also notes there is a strong relationship between abdominal obesity and the degree of insulin resistance, regardless of how much you weigh overall. To estimate your level of abdominal obesity, you can use the waist-hip ratio by measuring your waist at its narrowest point, usually just above the belly button, and your hips at their fullest point around the buttocks. Then, you divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement. A waist-hip ratio of greater than 1.0 in men or 0.8 in women is strongly linked to abdominal obesity and insulin resistance.
In 1996, a study at Garvan Institute of Medical Research, St. Vincent's Hospital, in Sydney, Australia investigated the link between abdominal fat and insulin resistance in normal and overweight women. Their results, published in the journal “Diabetes” in May 1996, found that not only was abdominal fat a strong marker for insulin resistance, it may be the major determining factor of insulin resistance in women.
To lose belly fat, Harvard University Medical School experts recommend moderate-intensity physical activity of at least 30 minutes per day, preferably more. They point to a study at Duke University Medical Center that found non-exercisers experienced a nearly nine percent gain in visceral fat after six months, while patients who exercised the equivalent of jogging 20 miles per week lost both visceral and subcutaneous fat. Strength training of an hour twice a week can also help reduce visceral fat. Diet is also important, and you should watch your portion sizes and focus on complex carbohydrates such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
Although exercise can be beneficial, if you are overweight or obese, MayoClinic.com cautions that you should check with your doctor before starting any physical activity. You can work with her to plan out an exercise program that’s right for you.
- NIH National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse: Insulin Resistance
- American Family Physician: Insulin Resistance Syndrome
- PubMed: Abdominal Fat and Insulin Resistance in Normal and Overweight Women
- Harvard Medical Center: Abdominal Fat and What to Do About It
- MayoClinic.com: Exercise—When to check with your doctor first