The prevalence of Type 2 diabetes is on the rise. More than 29 million Americans or 9.3% of the U.S. population have diabetes. In addition to the 29 million who already have diabetes, another 86 million (1 out of 3) American adults, have pre-diabetes, a condition in which blood glucose levels are higher than normal but are not high enough for an official diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes. Of those with pre-diabetes, 9 out of 10 do not know that they have prediabetes. Those with pre-diabetes are at increased risk of going on to develop full-blown Type 2 diabetes, if steps are not taken to stop it in its tracks. Although the genes you inherit may influence the development of type 2 diabetes, they are only one piece of the puzzle and they take a back seat to behavioral and lifestyle factors.
Below are simple steps you can take to head in a healthy direction. Making small changes in lifestyle habits can not only prevent pre-diabetes from becoming diabetes, but can also return blood glucose levels to the normal range. These same changes can also prevent the development of complications if you already have Type 2 diabetes and can ward off many other health problems including heart disease and some cancers.
Know Your Numbers
Many diabetes symptoms are silent, but a simple blood test can reveal whether blood sugar levels put you at risk for the condition. Obtaining regular checks of blood cholesterol levels and blood pressure can also be useful. Having healthy levels of these three indicators significantly reduces your risk of diabetes. If you know that your numbers are high, you can get yourself on track before diabetes sets in and medications may be necessary.
Inactivity promotes Type 2 diabetes. Every two hours you spend sitting instead of pursuing something more active increases the chances of developing diabetes by 14%. If it’s been a while since you exercised, start by building more movement into your routine by taking the stairs, parking further away, dancing to your favorite songs, or marching in place during TV commercials. Long bouts of rigorous, sweaty exercise are not necessary. Several studies show that walking briskly for a half hour every day reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 30%.
Dietary changes can have a big impact on the risk of type 2 diabetes. Studies show that people who eat a variety of food are healthier, live longer, and have a reduced risk of disease, including diabetes. Food variety means including foods such as fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, lean meat, fish, seafood, nuts and seeds, and dairy products. Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables since they are not only full of vitamins and minerals, but they contain beneficial phytonutrients – which can defend against disease. Read the ingredient list so that you are more aware of what you are putting into your body. Skip the sugary drinks. Choose whole grains and avoid highly processed carbohydrates. Opt for good fats (poly and monounsaturated fats found in liquid vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds) instead of bad fats (trans fats found in many margarines, packaged baked goods, and fast foods and saturated fats found in high fat red meat, butter, and cheese.
Manage Your Weight
Excess weight is a significant contributor to the development Type 2 diabetes. Being obese can make you 20 to 40 times more likely to develop diabetes than someone in a healthy weight range. If you’re carrying excess weight, you might not have to lose as much as you think to make a difference. The Diabetes Prevention Program found that overweight individuals who lose even 5-7% of their total body weight through exercising and healthy eating cut their chances of getting diabetes by 58%. Don’t consume yourself with restrictive dieting. Instead, practice mindful eating and aim for balance, variety, and moderation. Get moving and support Step Out Walk to Stop Diabetes on August 23 in Olin Park.
Add Type 2 diabetes to the long list of health problems linked with smoking. Smokers are roughly 50% more likely to develop diabetes than nonsmokers, and heavy smokers have an even higher risk.
Stress has both a direct and indirect effect on blood sugars. When you’re stressed, your body is primed to take action and releases extra glucose into the bloodstream. Stress can also have an indirect effect by detracting from your overall self-care by triggering you to grab fast food, skip your exercise class, drink more, etc. Don’t fret though, relaxation exercises and other stress management techniques can help you control blood sugar levels and set you on a healthier, calmer path. Try taking three deep, slow breaths any time you feel your tension level rising (before answering the phone, starting the car, when waiting in line, or any other activity).
Moving more, eating better, and stressing less is always easier if you have others helping you out, holding you accountable, and cheering you on. Consider joining a group where you can pursue a healthier lifestyle in the company of others with similar goals. Fortunately, Meriter has a variety of programs to help you with making lifestyle changes to improve your health. If you are interested in learning more, check out (link for pathways to good health).
Adjust Your Mindset
It’s not always easy to make changes in health habits; however, you are more likely to be successful if you give yourself permission to focus on small changes. Be realistic with your expectations and remember to focus on one goal or change at a time. Break down your goals into small, manageable steps that are specifically defined. Anything you can do today that was healthier than yesterday is a step in the right direction.