Diabetes is a worldwide epidemic. As more people develop diabetes each year, you may worry about the risks for you and your family. But, here’s the good news: You can do something about those risks.
A recent study shows that choosing healthy habits can make a big difference in the long run.
Researchers analyzed data from 14 studies that included about 1 million people. They found that people who had the healthiest lifestyle had a 75% reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes, compared to those who had the least healthy lifestyle, explains diabetes nurse educator, Sue Cotey.
The takeaway? Taking some simple steps now can help you avoid type 2 diabetes. In fact, making healthy lifestyle changes now can head off nearly three-quarters of all cases.
Those who had the best chances of avoiding type 2 diabetes:
- Didn’t smoke.
- Didn’t drink alcohol.
- Exercised regularly.
- Ate a healthy diet.
- Weren’t overweight.
Having someone cheering you on at home makes it easier to make positive lifestyle changes. And, as a parent, spouse or caregiver, you can keep yourself and your family healthy by understanding your diabetes risk and making better choices for everyone.
Here are five ways to reduce your family’s risk of type 2 diabetes:
1. Know your family’s unique risks
The American Diabetes Association offers an online risk test to help you estimate your risk for type 2 diabetes.
It’s higher for those who:
- Are overweight.
- Have a family history of diabetes.
- Are age 45 or older.+ Have high blood pressure.
- Have high cholesterol.
- Have had gestational diabetes.
- Have had heart disease.
- Are African-American, Alaskan or Hawaiian, native American, or Hispanic.
2. Get moving
You don’t need to run miles a day to reduce your diabetes risk. Simply moving around — and including your family in the activity — will help you lose weight and lower your risk.
Taking the dog for a walk, walking around the mall, playing catch or joining a sports league are all good ways to get your family up and moving around. The goal is to work in some kind of physical activity for at least 150 minutes each week.
3. Fix your diet
Here are some simple tips for improving your nutrition:
- Reduce your intake of foods that are high in calories, sugar and fat. ChooseMyPlate.gov offers easy-to-follow guidelines about what to eat at every meal.
- Replace sugary drinks and fruit juice with water.
- Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables every day.
- Eat plenty of whole grains.
- Keep your pantry stocked. Having healthy food at home helps you avoid eating out too much.
- Include your family in planning and preparing meals. If you can, sit down to enjoy them together.
4. Lose a little weight
If you or your family have some weight to lose, you’re not alone. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute recommends cutting the calories you consume by 500 to 1,000 a day to lose one to two pounds a week.
Eating a diet that’s high in whole grains and fiber but low in refined sugars is key when it comes to dropping your diabetes risk, Cotey says.
“Fiber helps to slow down absorption,” she says. “For people who have diabetes, or even prediabetes, fiber can help keep blood sugars more stable when added to your diet.”
Consuming too many refined sugars, such as white bread, pasta, rice and sweet drinks, can cause insulin levels to spike very quickly and result in changes in blood sugar levels.If you’re diagnosed with prediabetes, that does not necessarily mean that diabetes is on the horizon, Cotey says — but it does mean that you need to take action to turn things around.
“You can definitely prevent progression to diabetes,” she says. “Importantly, we’ve found that even losing 5% to 7% of your weight can substantially reduce your risk to develop diabetes.”
These healthy lifestyle changes will also improve other risk factors like high blood pressure and high cholesterol. It can feel overwhelming to have to make multiple changes to your lifestyle to achieve health goals. But Cotey recommends taking baby steps and tackling one new healthy habit at a time.
5. Don’t go it alone
There are many programs available across the country to help you and your family lower your diabetes risk.
More than 200 YMCA programs nationwide offer 25 one-hour sessions over a year for people with prediabetes (where blood glucose levels are high, but not yet in the range of diabetes).
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also offers a year-long lifestyle change program with education, a lifestyle coach and support groups.
If you suspect that someone in your family is at risk for type 2 diabetes, talk with your healthcare provider. Your doctor can either provide information or direct you to resources to help you make important lifestyle changes.
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