Diabetes prevention is something I'm always talking with my patients about because it's just as serious and easily preventable as the obesity epidemic. In fact, the two are so closely linked that we use the term diabesity to describe what's really going on: overweight Americans who are insulin resistant.
Even more shocking - a recent study in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine finds that 3 in 10 Americans have diabetes but don't even know it.
What is diabetes? Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. When you have diabetes, your blood glucose levels rise. This increase causes your body to not use insulin properly - it's what's known as insulin resistance. Your pancreas starts to make extra insulin to compensate, but eventually it doesn't make enough.
So glucose (sugar) can't get into the body's cells. And when glucose builds up in the blood instead of going into cells, the body's cells are not able to function properly.
Diabetes can cause problems with your nerves, kidneys and heart, and it can affect your ability to use your muscles. When you have diabetes, you also have an increased risk for heart disease, stroke, and even death.
An unhealthy lifestyle is a leading factor in diabetes, as is age. Sure, you can't turn back the clock, but you can fool Mother Nature into believing that your body is younger than the age on your driver license.
With simple healthy lifestyle choices, you can actually prevent and even reverse diabetes. Sure, it will take consistency and dedication, but isn't your life worth it?
Here are 10.
Lose weight. Extra weight, especially when it's around your waist, is the single leading cause of type 2 diabetes. In fact, you're 7 times more likely to develop it if you're overweight, and 20-40 times more likely if you're obese. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables, especially leafy vegetables like broccoli, kale, and collard greens are some of the most nutritious foods you can eat. Instead of making meat your mainstay for every meal, most of the protein you eat should be from plant-based sources. Think beans, legumes, and whole grains. Use meat, cheese, and milk more as a condiment or side dish rather than the main course.
Exercise. It's one of the best habits for your health, but chances are you're not doing enough. Experts say you should be getting at least 2.5hours of moderate intensity aerobic activity or 1.5 hours of vigorous exercise every week, in addition to two days of strength training. If you haven't hit the gym in a long time or would rather veg out on the couch, start slow with just 10 minutes a day and then build up.
Nix sugar. A high sugar diet has been linked to insulin resistance, and the typical American diet is filled with it! In fact, the amount of added sugars in our diets has increased approximately 30 percent within the last three decades, a receipt report in the journal Obesity Society finds. One of the largest sources of sugar is processed, packaged, and fast foods - about 80 percent of them contain added sugars. So start reading labels, make a shopping list, and choose fresh, whole foods as much as possible.
Eat yogurt. A recent study in the journal BMC Medicine shows that eating 28 grams of yogurt a day lowered the risk for type 2 diabetes by 18 percent. Choose plain, non-fat Greek yogurt over regular to get more protein, and add berries to cut down on the high sugar of fruit-flavored varieties.
Build muscle. Most doctors and weight loss plans use Body Mass Index (BMI) to determine what your healthy weight should be. Yet body fat percentage using a body composition test is a more reliable measure of health because it looks deeper into what is in your weight - does your body have all fat, or is there some muscle too? Muscle is important because when you have low muscle mass, you're more likely to have diabetes. So even if you're thin, building up your muscle with strength training activities is important.
Get more sleep. Sleep is essential for your health, and studies show sleep deprivation may increase the risk for diabetes. The National Sleep Foundation recommends getting anywhere from 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. Try going to bed 30 minutes earlier each night until you're getting enough.
Stimulate your brain. Diabetes can affect your memory and thinking. What's more, even a high fasting blood sugar may increase your risk for dementia, according to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine. Take up a new hobby, do an activity that challenges your brain (like a crossowrd puzzle or DIY project), read a book about a topic you aren't interested in, or take a trip somewhere new.
Quit smoking. Are you really still smoking? I really can't believe it, not only because it can kill you but also because you're 50 percent more likely to develop diabetes. So get the patch, gum, or ask your doctor for a prescription and find support today.
Relax. Stress can throw off your blood sugar levels and wreak havoc on other areas of your body, mind, and spirit. So carve out time each day to connect with nature, take a break from your iPad, meditate, pray, or practice yoga.
Heal thyself. Many times my patients see me because of their physical symptoms when in reality, what's really going on is anxiety manifesting itself as a stomachache or other physical symptom. When we don't heal past trauma, deal with challenging family relationships, or find help for mental illness, it can take a toll on our overall health. Working with a therapist or counselor can help.
By J. Dan Morris, M.D.
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