Tens of millions of people are at high risk of developing diabetes, a disease that can cause serious health problems including damage to the nerves, eyes, kidneys, heart and blood vessels. However, you can take steps to reduce your risk of developing this disease.
There are two main forms of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the cells that make insulin, a hormone the body needs to use glucose (blood sugar) for energy. There’s no known way of preventing type 1 diabetes. However, there are many things you can do to help avoid the far more common type 2 diabetes, in which the body does not produce enough insulin or fails to use it properly.
Risk factors for type 2 diabetes include obesity, sedentary lifestyle, age, race, genetics, high blood pressure, family history of the disease and personal history of gestational diabetes (a temporary condition that can develop in pregnant women). Risk factors may also include alcohol abuse, smoking, stress and lack of sleep.
The National Institutes of Health’s landmark Diabetes Prevention Program study found strong evidence that lifestyle changes can prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes in people at high risk of developing the disease.
Weight, Diet and Exercise
Three key lifestyle changes can help you reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes:
- Lose weight, or maintain a healthy weight. Overweight and obese people are especially at risk of developing type 2 diabetes because body fat makes your cells more resistant to insulin. In some cases, people with diabetes who lose as little as 10 to 15 pounds can actually restore their blood sugar levels to a normal range.
The best way to shed pounds is through a combination of improved diet and regular exercise. As luck would have it, diet and exercise are also the focus of the other lifestyle changes essential to reducing type 2 diabetes risk.
- Get regular exercise. In additional to controlling weight, boosting the heart and having many other health benefits, regular physical activity moderates your glucose level and improves your body’s ability to use insulin. Experts generally recommend getting at least 30 to 60 minutes of exercise on most days of the week.
Any activity that gets you moving will help. This may be jogging or basketball for some people. However, others may be more comfortable with lower-intensity activities such as walking. Even gardening and playing with the kids or pets will help.
It is best to consult a physician before starting an exercise program. This is especially true if you are getting on in years, are pregnant, smoke, have been inactive for a while or have a health condition such as heart disease, high blood pressure or arthritis.
- Improve your diet. The risk of developing diabetes might decline when you eat a balanced diet low in sugar, processed starches and saturated fats, and high in fiber. It also helps to consume adequate amounts of lean protein and “good” monounsaturated and omega-3 fats, such as olive oil, walnuts and salmon.
Good choices include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, fish, low-fat dairy products (such as skim milk or yogurt), egg whites, lean meats and low-salt nuts and seeds.
Other lifestyle changes that may help prevent diabetes including getting enough sleep, controlling stress and not smoking or abusing alcohol.