Using a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) allows you to have real-time and historical data about your metabolic health. After gaining a better understanding of what glucose values mean and how your habits affect them, the next step is to optimize. The most effective ways to manage glucose levels, longevity, and healthspan can be grouped into what we call “The Big Four.” This includes:
Your food choices are going to be the primary influencer on your health. This is the main pillar that simply cannot be neglected. There is no one-size-fits-all diet and many plans can fit into a healthy lifestyle. However, everyone can benefit from reducing their intake of refined carbohydrates, added sugars, and processed foods while focusing on consuming high-quality foods.
Aside from these basic guidelines, there is a wide degree of bio-individuality. We have differences in genetics, epigenetics, microbiome, and environmental factors that make our diet choices affect us all differently. Certain foods may work well for your friend but may impair your metabolic health. In fact, research has shown that when you give a standardized meal to people, almost everyone has a widely different glucose response. (Source) Everyone’s carbohydrate tolerance is different, so it’s important to test it out for yourself!
After nutrition, physical activity is the next pillar to master. Include a variety of activities in your routine including stability and mobility, weight and strength training, aerobic exercise, and anaerobic high-intensity exercise. Fitness doesn’t stop at a hard workout, though. Don’t underestimate the importance of daily movement, walking, and limiting sedentary time. Just adding a 15-minute walk after a meal can help improve your glucose response! (Source)
While fasting has garnered a lot of attention in recent years, its impact on glucose is tried and true. Fasting refers to both the time in between your meals as well as your overnight fast and longer fasts. Adequate fasting time allows the body to rest and digest, focusing more of its energy on repairing and less on digestion. Just like all aspects of health, there’s no “one right way” to do it. Some people tolerate fasting better than others, and women specifically tend to respond differently to this pillar. It’s important to experiment with your own data to find what works best for your body!
Stress & Sleep
Stress can be defined as anything that puts the body in a physiological stressful state. This includes mental stress, physical stress, poor sleep, and illnesses. Elevated cortisol (the stress hormone) can drive up fasting glucose values higher than any other factor. (Source) When your cortisol levels are consistently high, the brain and liver make extra glucose and decrease your insulin sensitivity so that the excess glucose is available to deal with the stress. If this behavior is consistent over time, it dramatically increases our risk of developing chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes. (Source)
Whatever helps you manage stress – whether it be journaling, connection with friends or family, meditation, nature, yoga, or breathwork, work to make it become a habit in your daily life. Set a time in your day for a five-minute breathing exercise or a nature walk and stick to it. Prioritize sleep and stick to your bedtime every night (yes, even weekends!). Ask for help when you need it, and put yourself first. These simple, powerful habits can make a profound difference in your glucose levels.
When you think about metabolic health, consider these four pillars as the foundation. If one pillar crumbles, the whole thing can fall apart. When in doubt, test it for yourself using a tool like a CGM to understand what works (and doesn’t work) for you.