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Diabetes Prevention – 5 Tips for Taking Charge of Your Health

women exercising to help prevent diabetes

What You Can Do to Prevent Diabetes

By Sally Bowman, RN, quality care coordinator

If you are currently overweight or obese, have high cholesterol or a family history of diabetes, you are at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Maybe you’ve been diagnosed with prediabetes, a condition in which blood sugar is high but not high enough to be type 2 diabetes.  Without intervention, its likely you’ll become a type 2 diabetic within 10 years.

But hope is not lost. Making lifestyle changes can prevent or delay the onset of the disease. Diabetes carries a long list of serious health complications such as nerve, kidney and heart damage.  It’s never too late to make changes.

[Read more: All You Need to Know About the Basics of Diabetes Symptoms, Causes and Prevention]

Diabetes Prevention Tips

1. Lose weight

Losing weight reduces the risk of diabetes. People in one large study reduced their risk of developing diabetes by almost 60% after losing approximately 7% of their body weight with changes in exercise and diet.

The American Diabetes Association recommends that people with prediabetes lose at least 7% to 10% of their body weight to prevent disease progression. More weight loss will translate into even greater benefits.

Set a weight-loss goal based on your current body weight. Talk to your doctor about reasonable short-term goals and expectations, such as  losing one to two pounds a week.

2. Increase your physical activity

There are many benefits to regular physical activity, including the following.

  • Losing weight
  • Lowering your blood sugar
  • Boosting your sensitivity to insulin — which helps keep your blood sugar within a normal range

It can be helpful to set a goal to promote weight loss and maintain a healthy weight. Here are just a few examples of exercise activities you can take on.

  • Aerobic exercise – Aim for 30 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise — such as brisk walking, swimming, biking or running — on most days for a total of at least 150 minutes a week.
  • Resistance exercise –Resistance exercise at least two to three times per week increases your strength, balance and ability to maintain an active life. Resistance training includes weightlifting, yoga and calisthenics.
  • Limited inactivity – Breaking up long bouts of inactivity, such as sitting at the computer, can help control blood sugar levels. Take a few minutes to stand, walk around or do some light activity every 30 minutes.

3. Eat healthy plant foods

Plants provide vitamins, minerals and carbohydrates in your diet. Carbohydrates include sugars and starches, the energy sources for your body, and fiber. Dietary fiber, also known as roughage or bulk, is the part of plant foods your body can't digest or absorb.

Fiber-rich foods promote weight loss and lower the risk of diabetes. Eat a variety of healthy, fiber-rich foods, which include the following.

  • Fruits, such as tomatoes, peppers and fruit from trees
  • Nonstarchy vegetables, such as leafy greens, broccoli and cauliflower
  • Legumes, such as beans, chickpeas and lentils
  • Whole grains, such as whole-wheat pasta and bread, whole-grain rice, whole oats, and quinoa

Eating fiber offers a number of benefits, including the short list below.

  • Slows the absorption of sugars and lowers blood sugar levels
  • Interferes with the absorption of dietary fat and cholesterol
  • Helps manage other risk factors that affect heart health, such as blood pressure and inflammation
  • Helps you eat less because fiber-rich foods are more filling and energy rich

Avoid foods that are "bad carbohydrates" — high in sugar with little fiber or nutrients, such as white bread and pastries, pasta from white flour, fruit juices and processed foods with sugar or high-fructose corn syrup.

4. Eat healthy fats

Fatty foods are high in calories and should be eaten in moderation. To help lose and manage weight, your diet should include a variety of foods with unsaturated fats, sometimes called "good fats."

Unsaturated fats, both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, promote healthy blood cholesterol levels along with good heart and vascular health. Below are some sources where you can find good fats.

  • Olive, sunflower, safflower, cottonseed and canola oils
  • Nuts and seeds, such as almonds, peanuts, flaxseed and pumpkin seeds
  • Fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, tuna and cod

Saturated fats, the "bad fats," are found in dairy products and meats. These should be a small part of your diet. You can limit saturated fats by eating low-fat dairy products, and lean chicken and pork.

5. Skip fad diets and make healthier choices

Many fad diets, such as the glycemic index, paleo or keto diets, may help you lose weight. There is little research, however, about the long-term benefits of these diets or their benefit in preventing diabetes.

One simple strategy to help you make good food choices and eat appropriate portions sizes is to divide up your plate. These three divisions on your plate promote healthy eating.

  • One-half fruit and non-starchy vegetables
  • One-quarter whole grains
  • One-quarter protein-rich foods, such as legumes, fish or lean meats

When to See Your Doctor About Diabetes Prevention

The American Diabetes Association recommends routine screening with type diabetes diagnostic tests for all adults aged 45 or older, as well as for the following groups.

  • People younger than 45 who are overweight or obese and have one or more risk factors associated with diabetes
  • Women who have had gestational diabetes
  • People who have been diagnosed with prediabetes
  • Children who are overweight or obese and who have a family history of type 2 diabetes or other risk factors

Share your concerns about diabetes prevention with your personal doctor. They will appreciate your efforts to prevent diabetes and may offer additional suggestions based on your medical history or other factors. As always, you can feel free to contact us about diabetes-related coverage under your Network Health plan.

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