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The Most Important Thing You Can Do to Prevent Diabetes

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Though diabetes is one of the most pressing issues facing world health at the moment, it isn’t nearly as scary as it looks. For the most part diabetes is entirely preventable. Just a few simple diet and lifestyle changes can reverse the disease in a matter of months. One study in the UK had patients on a strict diet of 800 calories per day, and saw most cases return to health in just a few weeks.

The Difference Between Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes

Type 1 was once called “juvenile diabetes.” Though it can be diagnosed at any age, 70 percent of diagnoses are made before the age of 30.  Onset is usually very sudden, perhaps even involving a trip to the intensive care unit.

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Though most believe type 1 diabetes to be incurable and unpreventable, keep in mind we used to believe the same of illnesses like appendicitis and strep throat, which by comparison appear rather mundane. Scientists are yet to figure out why, but prevalence of type 1 has been rising about 2.5 to 4 percent per year.

Previously called “adult-onset diabetes,” type 2 is far more common, making up nearly 90 percent of people with diabetes. When news outlets and doctors talk about the spike in diabetes cases worldwide, they’re probably referring to type 2, which is almost entirely diet related and affects primarily overweight people, both child and adult.

Our bodies need simple sugar to survive. It’s got intricate mechanisms in place to make sure the right amount of sugar gets to the cells. Too much or too little can be fatal. Insulin is a hormone that tells your cells it’s okay to sponge up the sugar and when to close the flood gates. Type 1 and type 2 diabetics have problems with insulin production or absorption, meaning their cells don’t know what to do with all that sugar.

Are You at Risk for Diabetes?

If you’re old enough to read this article, chances are your risk of type 1 diabetes is low. Type 2 is another story. Though genetics have some influence, diet and lifestyle are far more significant. If your mother, brother or sister has diabetes, you’re probably at risk too, but that’s likely more due to similarities is diet and activity level than it is to genetics.

Doctors will ask if you’ve been diagnosed with high-blood pressure, if you smoke or if you drink more than one or two servings of alcohol per day. While these are all important factors, some more pertinent questions might include:

  • How many hours of television do you watch?
  • How many cans of soda do you drink each week?
  • How often do you get outdoors?
  • Do you have any hobbies?
  • How often do you have sex?

How to Eliminate Your Risk of Diabetes

Exercise. A half hour a day of moderate exercise will decrease your risk of diabetes by 30 percent. Working your muscles helps them use some of that extra insulin kicking around by absorbing glucose. That doesn’t mean you need to start hitting the treadmill and pumping iron. A brisk walk or a good romp in the hay is all you need.

Eat whole grains. Gluten-free, fibre-rich grains are slower to digest than white bread and potatoes. That means sugar is released into the bloodstream gradually, giving your body time to manage it. Beware of marketing when it comes to shopping for carbs. Many of those middle-of-the-store foods are highly processed. No amount of whole grains is going to counteract the effects of high-sugar cereals like Cinnamon Toast Crunch or Cocoa Puffs.

Cook. Food writer Michael Pollan broke it down easy when he said, “Eat anything you want, just cook it yourself.” That means from scratch, by the way, not heating up a box of KD.

Skip the soda. Just one sweetened beverage per day can increase your risk of diabetes by more than 80 percent, according to the Nurses Health Study. Don’t kid yourself. A bottle of Snapple Iced Tea has nearly as much sugar as a can of Coke. A 16 oz Minute Maid Orange Juice has even more. Even some soy milks contain huge amounts of sugar. Stick to water, tea and coffee and other juices that you can prepare for yourself. Don’t be fooled by savvy marketing.

The Single Most Important Thing You Can Do to Prevent Diabetes

Stop watching television. Prolonged television watching is one of the most damaging things you can do for your health. It’s been linked to increased risk of heart disease and early death. In children, all that television has even been associated with depression in early adulthood.One study showed that for every two hours per day spent watching television instead of doing something more active, risk of diabetes is increased by 20 percent.

This figure is probably low. Since snacking is synonymous with television, it stands to reason that a more active lifestyle would mean fewer sugary treats late at night. Television also decreases your attention span, meaning you may not enjoy more fruitful activities like outdoor exercise, cooking or reading.

Watching a lot of television in the evening is very stimulating for the brain, making it difficult to get a restful sleep. If your goal is to lose weight, sleep is a key factor. Several population studies and controlled studies have demonstrated a link between healthy weight and proper sleep. Lack of sleep reduces activity in the frontal cortex of the brain, where we make rational decisions. This might explain why sleep-deprived participants in one study tended to eat more high-calorie junk foods throughout the day.

This isn’t to say there’s no place for television in life. Everything in moderation. The same could be said of sugary drinks and cereals. The fact is most of us know these things instinctively, but there’s a perception that change will be hard, or that too much of it is required.

Start with small changes. Statistically, those are the ones that tend to stick. Drink one less can of soda per day or watch one less hour of television. Instead of joining a gym and vowing to work out eight days a week, try a 20-minute stroll through the park. Aim to cook a meal once per day. Start packing lunches to avoid the noontime temptation.

Pick a small, achievable goal. There’s no reason not to start right now. What’s your goal?

Have you or one of your loved ones recently been diagnosed with diabetes? You may now be wondering about medical costs and whether a health insurance policy will cover your condition. If you want to find out more about this, contact us today to speak to one of our advisors.

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