It often seems that everywhere we look, health articles, literature and pundits are constantly touting the benefits of healthy eating and exercise. It may sometimes be tempting to ask, do healthy lifestyle changes really work?
In the case of diabetes, specifically type 2, doctors say absolutely.
Diabetes, like many health conditions, can tend to run in families, so people with a genetic tendency often think they’re destined to develop it. But genetics alone don't dictate whether or not a person will get diabetes, there are other risk factors, some of which we can't control, but others we can.
There are two types of diabetes -- Type 1, formerly known as juvenile diabetes, usually diagnosed in children and young adults, and type 2, which is by far the most common, making up 90 to 95 percent of all diagnosed cases of diabetes in adults.
Your pancreas makes a hormone called insulin which helps distribute blood sugar throughout your body's cells. With prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, your body is unable to process or use insulin properly (insulin resistance). Your pancreas then makes extra insulin to help keep up, but sooner or later, it can't, and your blood sugar (glucose) builds up in the blood stream rather than go to the cells where it's needed. The result is "high blood sugar," which can over the long-term lead to serious eye, kidney, nerve and other health issues. In fact, according to the National Eye Institute, diabetes is a leading cause of blindness in working-age adults. Plus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people with diabetes are twice as likely to have heart disease or a stroke as those without.
But the good news is type 2 diabetes is largely preventable. In fact, if you are at risk, type 2 diabetes can likely be delayed or prevented with even moderate weight loss, and physical activity.
What makes people susceptible to diabetes?
Your odds of developing diabetes depend on a combination of risk factors, including:
- Family history -- a parent or sibling with diabetes
- Obesity or being overweight
- Age -- 45 or older
- Ethnicity -- African American, Alaska Native, American Indian, Asian American, Hispanic/Latino, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Islanders are more prone to type 2 diabetes
- Lack of physical activity
How can diabetes be prevented?
While age, heredity and ethnicity can't be controlled, your diet and exercise can. Steps for keeping diabetes at bay include:
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Get regular exercise
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet
- Stop smoking
- Be aware of your body's changes -- Monitor your cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels.
Bottom line, even if you are at risk for type 2 diabetes, there are steps you can take. Understand your cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar numbers, and talk to your doctor about the healthy choices you can make.