Standard diabetes prevention advice—lose weight, exercise, eat better—is not getting through to or is letting down millions of North Americans. The proof is in statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Upwards of 30 million Americans have type 2 diabetes and 84 million more have prediabetes—elevated blood sugar levels that increase the risk for type 2 diabetes.
That means about 1 in every 10 Americans has type 2 diabetes and is at increased risk for heart attack, stroke, vision loss, nerve damage, kidney failure and amputation of toes, feet or legs—not to mention they also have higher odds for depression, dental trouble, pregnancy complications, pneumonia and the flu.
The more than 1 in 3 Americans with prediabetes face huge health risks, too. Having elevated blood sugar levels ups the chance for a heart attack or stroke, cognitive problems, depression and sexual problems. Plus, within three years, 15 to 30 percent of those with prediabetes will develop full-blown type 2.
In the 1970s, about 4 million Americans had type 2 diabetes. The number of those with type 1 diabetes, caused by an autoimmune attack that stops the body’s production of insulin, has grown slightly. But the prevalence of type 2, which is linked to inactivity, being overweight, making unhealthy food choices and possibly genetics, has soared.
How to lower your risk of diabetes With a few lifestyle changes, you may be able to reduce your chances of developing diabetes or prediabetes. Here are four “betcha didn’t think of these” obstacles that may be keeping you from applying the standard advice of move-more, eat-better, lose-weight.
Stress pumps up blood sugar—so learn to chill. Stress activates your body’s “fight or flight” response and makes you reach for foods that widen your waistline, while at the same time muting your body’s ability to use blood sugar. You can tame tension by getting plenty of sleep, making time for friends and family or learning a relaxation technique that works for you, such as deep breathing, meditation or progressive muscle relaxation.
Overcrowded days make healthy choices difficult. Do what you can because every little bit helps. Discouraged because you can’t fit in a half-hour walk today? Don’t be. Grab a 10-minute walk at lunchtime. No time to meditate before you rush off to a morning meeting? Use that 15-minute wait before your boss shows up to do a short, relaxing breathing exercise. Gotta feed the family fast before another hectic evening of activities and homework? Hit the supermarket salad bar instead of the fast-food drive-through.
Your food environment may be sabotaging your diet. If it’s time for a fridge and pantry makeover, start by banishing the five food felons: trans and saturated fats, added sugars and syrups and refined grains. Replace those villains, all of which mess with healthy blood sugar levels, with 100% whole grains, good fats found in nuts, avocado and other fruits, olive and canola oil and vegetables, particularly leafy greens as well as salmon or ocean trout. These foods contain fiber, mono- and polyunsaturated fats, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that help regulate blood sugar and reduce body-wide damage caused by diabetes and prediabetes.
Don’t stop there. Pack healthy lunches for yourself and your kids. Keep healthy snacks on hand at work and in the car, too. We love baby carrots, a handful of nuts or a juicy piece of sun-ripened fruit, along with water or herbal tea.
Making healthy lifestyle changes isn’t easy. Don’t go it alone. Working with a diet or exercise buddy is a proven strategy to help you get better results. Sign up for diabetes education classes in your community. Got prediabetes? Check out diabetes prevention programs offered by YMCAs, hospitals, community centers and houses of worship.