Insulin resistance with aging: effects of diet and exercise

Sports Med. 2000 Nov;30(5):327-46. doi: 10.2165/00007256-200030050-00002.


Insulin resistance, a reduction in the rate of glucose disposal elicited by a given insulin concentration, is present in individuals who are obese, and those with diabetes mellitus, and may develop with aging. Methods which are utilised to measure insulin sensitivity include the hyperinsulinaemic-euglycaemic and hyperglycaemic clamps and the intravenous glucose tolerance tests. Several hormones and regulatory factors affect insulin action and may contribute to the insulin resistance observed in obesity. In addition, abnormal free fatty acid metabolism plays an important role in insulin resistance and the abnormal carbohydrate metabolism seen in individuals who are obese or diabetic. Thus, the mechanisms underlying the development of insulin resistance are multifactorial, and also involve alterations of the insulin signalling pathway. Aging is associated with an increase in bodyweight and fat mass. Not only is abdominal fat associated with hyperinsulinaemia but visceral adiposity is correlated with insulin resistance as well. Modifications of the changes in body composition with aging by diet and exercise training could delay the onset of insulin resistance. Weight loss and aerobic and resistive exercise training result in losses of total body fat and abdominal fat. Several studies report that bodyweight loss increases insulin sensitivity and improves glucose tolerance. In addition, the insulin resistance observed in aged persons can be modified by physical training. Longitudinal studies indicate significant improvements in glucose metabolism with aerobic exercise training in middle-aged and older men and women. Moreover, the improvements in insulin sensitivity with resistive training are similar in magnitude to those achieved with aerobic exercise. The improvements in glucose metabolism after bodyweight loss and exercise training may in some cases be partially attributed to changes in body composition, including reductions in total and central body fat. Yet, additional changes in skeletal muscle, blood flow and other mechanisms likely interact to modify insulin resistance with exercise training. Lifestyle modifications including bodyweight loss and physical activity provide health benefits and functional gains and should be promoted to increase insulin sensitivity and prevent glucose intolerance and type 2 diabetes mellitus in older adults.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Controlled Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Blood Glucose / analysis
  • Body Composition / physiology
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / diet therapy
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / physiopathology
  • Diet*
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Fatty Acids, Nonesterified / physiology
  • Female
  • Glucose Tolerance Test
  • Humans
  • Insulin / blood
  • Insulin Resistance / physiology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / diet therapy
  • Obesity / physiopathology
  • Physical Endurance / physiology
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Sports / physiology
  • Time Factors
  • Weight Loss


  • Blood Glucose
  • Fatty Acids, Nonesterified
  • Insulin