We all want to know the secret to eternal youth. Unfortunately, there’s no magic potion — but there are research-backed methods to help make the aging process more graceful. By focusing on reversing insulin resistance and balancing your glucose levels, you can buffer and potentially prevent the physical, mental, and clinical signs of aging.
How aging changes our bodies
Over the past century, the lifespan for both men and women has increased substantially. The number of Americans over the age of 65 is projected to more than double over the next 40 years, rising from 40 million in 2010 to 89 million in 2050 . Although people are living longer, they’re not in better health.
Aging comes with common physical changes, including gray hair and wrinkles, but many metabolic and hormonal changes aren’t as visible.
1. Cardiovascular health
The most common change associated with aging involves the cardiovascular system . Blood vessels and arteries begin to stiffen, causing your heart to work harder to pump blood. Due to the increased workload of your heart muscles, the risk of high blood pressure (i.e., hypertension) and other cardiovascular problems increases.
2. Bone and muscle health
As early as your 40s and 50s, your bones may become weaker, less dense, and more brittle, which increases the risk of fractures . You’re also at greater risk of age-related loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength, known as sarcopenia, which increases the risk of injury and can decrease mobility .
3. Digestive health
Your digestive system also slows down due to changes in your large intestine that can lead to constipation . Constipation can also be caused by a lack of physical activity, dehydration, a diet low in fiber, medications like diuretics and iron supplements, and certain medical conditions such as diabetes.
4. Menopause and andropause
Around age 40, you may begin to experience the physical and emotional symptoms of menopause and andropause (i.e., “male menopause”) [5, 6]. This change in hormonal health also contributes to the development of sarcopenia.
5. Insulin resistance
Along with the onset of these symptoms is an increased risk of developing insulin resistance and decreased insulin sensitivity. This increased risk of insulin resistance related to aging is independent of a metabolically healthy lifestyle.
In other words — as you age, it’s more difficult for your body to regulate and prevent conditions like insulin resistance even if you’re doing all the “right” metabolically healthy things (i.e., prioritizing your nutrition, sleep, stress levels, and exercise). The good news is that there are ways to change this narrative.
Cognitive health, insulin resistance, and blood glucose
This is important since the number of people aged 65 and older with dementia is increasing . Although the connection between cognitive decline and diabetes is still unclear, we know high blood sugar harms the brain.
When your blood sugar levels are high, your pancreas releases large amounts of insulin, which can cause your brain chemicals to become unbalanced and trigger cognitive decline .
On top of that, sustained high blood sugar can damage blood vessels and cells in the brain and harm brain health. One study showed that hyperglycemia (i.e., high blood glucose) was associated with slowing all cognitive performance tests and increased mental subtraction errors for both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetic subjects .
This means that higher blood sugar is associated with slowed brain function, which can lead to premature decline over time.
Menopause, andropause, and insulin resistance
Menopause is the age-related decline in female hormones that results in losing a menstrual period . This typically occurs at the age of 51 and is characterized by hot flashes, irregular menstrual periods, moodiness and irritability, and difficulty sleeping.
The hormones estrogen and progesterone affect how cells respond to insulin . After menopause, hormonal changes can trigger blood sugar level fluctuations. If left uncontrolled, high blood sugar levels can increase your risk of diabetes.
Menopause can also trigger body composition changes, impacting fat distribution and central obesity. For women with and without diabetes, this can lead to insulin resistance, which keeps your glucose levels high and makes it more difficult to lose weight .
Men experience a similar age-related decline in sex hormones called andropause . This gradual decline in testosterone levels affects loss of muscle mass, increased belly fat, mood swings, poor memory and concentration, and loss of libido. While many men don’t experience symptoms due to a decline in testosterone levels, it’s important to recognize that aging and the subsequent decline in hormones can affect healthspan and quality of life.
Sarcopenia and insulin resistance
Sarcopenia is the age-related loss of skeletal muscle and accumulation of fat mass that typically affects people 60 and older . Sarcopenia commonly occurs in the elderly due to physical inactivity, poor nutrition, a lack of protein in the diet, and decreased protein synthesis, among other factors.
Sarcopenia is dangerous — it impairs mobility, increases your risk of falling, and makes it challenging to perform daily tasks and activities. It’s strongly associated with insulin resistance, obesity, diabetes, and other chronic diseases. While sarcopenia can progress as a natural result of aging, research has found that it’s also linked to insulin resistance .
One form of sarcopenia, called sarcopenic obesity, describes people who have sarcopenia, insulin resistance, and obesity at the same time. Sarcopenic obesity increases your risk of health problems compared to obesity and sarcopenia alone .
How to treat sarcopenia
Currently, the treatment for sarcopenia emphasizes exercise, specifically strength training . Lifting weights or resistance bands can increase muscle strength, improve your fat-mass-to-muscle mass ratio, and promote mobility. Along with muscular benefits, resistance training is ideal for improving metabolic health as it helps regulate blood glucose .
Research shows that two weekly exercise sessions involving a combination of upper and lower body exercises for 1-3 sets of 6-12 repetitions are an appropriate treatment for sarcopenia . Getting enough lean protein in your diet is also key for building and maintaining lean muscle as you age.
Physical changes that come with aging
The physical changes of aging are the most well-known - graying and thinning of hair, wrinkles, sun spots, joint pain, loss of muscle and physical strength, hair loss, etc. Luckily, metabolic health monitoring and improvement can help combat these signs.
Insulin plays an important role in skin conditions such as acne and psoriasis . Under ideal circumstances, insulin regulates the formation of the skin’s structure . Insulin resistance, however, is associated with mild inflammation throughout the body and can aggravate your skin. It may also increase androgen hormones that can trigger acne development. Balancing your blood glucose levels and eating anti-inflammatory foods may help mitigate the signs of aging skin.
Limited joint mobility, also called diabetic hand syndrome or diabetic cheiroarthropathy, is joint stiffness that impacts the small joints of the hands . The skin on the hands may become waxy and thickened, and finger movement is eventually limited. The cause is unknown, but it's most common in individuals with diabetes. Monitoring blood sugar levels can slow the progression and act as a preventative measure to offset the development of this condition.
Using a CGM
One way to monitor your blood glucose levels is by using a continuous glucose monitor (CGM). A CGM allows you to view your glucose levels in real-time and your glucose response to food, exercise, and lifestyle factors. Pairing a CGM with the Veri app provides personalized insights into glucose trends and allows you to adapt lifestyle changes according to your results.
Aging can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. You can combat these physical, mental, and clinical changes by incorporating some daily habits and actions slowly and consistently.
- Our cognitive health should be prioritized, especially as we age. Add physical and brain-activating activities to your day to conserve your brain health.
- Signs of menopause and andropause (or hypogonadism) can begin as early as our 30s. Focus on a balanced diet emphasizing whole grains and fiber while limiting refined grains and excess sugar.
- One of the most common symptoms of aging is loss of muscle mass or sarcopenia. Incorporate resistance training twice weekly, including upper and lower body exercises.
- The most apparent sign of aging and the most discussed is our skin health. Manage your blood glucose levels and care for your body inside and out.
- A CGM is the most effective, data-driven tool that allows you to gain insight into your unique responses to external factors. It allows you to make personalized changes for your health goals and to strive towards optimal metabolic health.