How to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes

Fear you're destined for diabetes? Fear not! While genetics does play a role in your risk of developing diabetes, it does not have to be destiny. Talk with your health care provider and use these tips for improving your lifestyle to help keep diabetes away.
  • Lower Your Risk for Type 2 Diabetes

    The bathroom scale hits an all-time high. Your blood pressure is going up, your HDL (good) cholesterol is going down, and your LDL (bad) cholesterol is on the rise. And now your blood glucose level is rising, too. Your health care provider warns that you could develop type 2 diabetes and may even say you have pre-diabetes. The good news: The sooner you take steps to improve your numbers, the better your chances of preventing type 2. "You are in control of whether you will develop type 2 diabetes," says Cris Slentz, Ph.D., a senior research scientist at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina.

    While genetics does play a role in your chances of having diabetes, you can significantly reduce your risk by making simple changes to your lifestyle. Here are 10 strategies that can delay or prevent type 2 diabetes.

  • Shed a Few Pounds

    Losing just 5 to 7 percent of your body weight (that's 10 to 14 pounds for a 200-pound person) continues to be the key factor in preventing or delaying type 2 diabetes and even in normalizing blood glucose, says Hope Warshaw, R.D., CDE, author of Diabetes Meal Planning Made Easy (American Diabetes Association, 2010) and a contributing editor to Diabetic Living.

    But finding ways to cut calories can be a challenge. "It's a constant process of experimenting," says Martha Funnell, R.D., CDE, director of the National Diabetes Education Program. "How can I make this a part of my daily life? How am I going to eat fewer calories to sustain this weight loss? You have to figure out what you want to do to lower calories."

    Funnell suggests trying different strategies for healthy eating, then building those that work into your daily life. Some people find success eating everything in smaller portions, while others prefer to eliminate certain foods altogether.

    Action Step: Pace yourself. For weight loss that lasts, take the time to eat right and get active. Drastic diets and crazy exercises aren't needed. Make it a goal to lose up to one pound per week.

  • Squeeze Physical Activity into Your Daily Routine

    Find workouts that you enjoy and suit your schedule, says nutritionist Martha Funnell. If you're a morning person, try doing housekeeping chores early in the day. If you spend long hours at work, look for ways to squeeze in a walk before work or at lunch.

    The goal is to make activity part of your routine, so it's not a question of whether or not to exercise. "There should be no decision involved," Funnell says. "Otherwise, you'll come up with any number of reasons not to do it."

    Action Step: Take a close look at your daily routine. Decide on ways to incorporate more activity into your day, such as doing yard work, sweeping the kitchen floor more often, taking the stairs at work, parking farther from the store, carrying laundry downstairs in two trips rather than one heaping load.

  • Move More Often

    You don't have to slog for hours on a treadmill to reduce your risk of diabetes. In fact, recent research led by scientist Cris Slentz suggests that doing moderately intensive exercise more frequently may improve your body's response to the insulin you make better than exercising vigorously in less time. Both kinds of activity were equally effective at combating insulin resistance. "We don't know exactly why, but we do know that moderate intensity exercise burns more fat, while vigorous exercise burns more carbohydrates," he says. Those who engaged in moderately intensive workouts also spent more time exercising overall, he adds. Those who didn't exercise at all had an increase in blood glucose levels.

    Action Step: The best type of exercise is the one you'll keep doing. Choose low- to moderate-intensity activities that are fun and don't leave you exhausted. If you don't enjoy going to the gym but would love to learn to tango, sign up for a dance class. Exercise doesn't have to mean treadmills. Start slowly and build up your minutes and miles over time.

  • Try the 10-10-10 Rule

    Start the day with 10 minutes of stretching to improve mobility. At lunch, take a brisk 10-minute walk. In the evening, complete 10 minutes of strength training with resistance bands or hand weights. "It's the minimum for a sedentary person who never exercises," says Osama Hamdy, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Obesity Clinical Program at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston.

    Action Step: Start out by using the 10-10-10 plan three times per week. Gradually work your way up to six days per week.

  • Create a Better Bedtime Ritual

    Skimping on sleep hurts in several ways. For starters, you're more apt to overeat and less likely to exercise when sleep-deprived. But the lack of rest may also raise blood glucose levels. According to a study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, adults who slept 5.5 hours a night showed higher insulin resistance and less glucose tolerance than those who slept 8.5 hours a night.

    Action Step: Develop a relaxing prebedtime routine to help you unwind. The ritual should last anywhere from 10 minutes to one hour before bed.

  • Weigh Yourself Regularly

    Hop on the scale at least once a week, making sure to weigh in at the same time of day and wear the same clothing (or none) each time, says Sue McLaughlin, R.D., CDE, president of Health Care and Education for the American Diabetes Association. "Research shows that increasing the frequency of weighing results in better weight control and management," she says.

    Action Step: Track your weight in a journal so you can spot any gains immediately.

  • Get Your Fill of Protein

    For people trying to lose weight, eating more protein can help. "Keeping your protein intake up and doing strength training will increase muscle mass and keep your metabolism higher," says obesity expert Osama Hamdy. "Increasing protein also increases satiety and helps muscles take up glucose better." The best protein sources are lean meats, including fish, chicken, and turkey, as well as beans and low-fat dairy foods. But be sure to keep a balance of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains in your meal plan, too.

    Action Step: Focus on getting a lean source of protein into each meal of the day (for example: egg whites at breakfast, chicken breast at lunch, and tuna at dinner). Choose a handful of nuts and seeds or a piece of peanut butter toast (if your carb count allows) as a protein-rich snack between meals.

  • Choose Whole Grain Carbs

    Most Americans get about half of their daily calories from carbohydrate. However, the quality of the carb sources can be a problem -- breakfast cereals with added sugar, breads made from refined white flour, and pastries chock full of sugar. "Refined carbs raise the blood glucose quickly after meals before the pancreas is able to secrete corresponding amounts of insulin," says obesity expert Osama Hamdy. "In people with diabetes, this situation leads to postprandial (after-meal) hyperglycemia, which is considered a risk for coronary artery disease."

    Action Step: Load up on healthy carbohydrate sources that are high in fiber, made from whole grains (look for a whole grain, not a refined grain, to be first in the ingredients list), and low on the glycemic index, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grain foods. Good whole grain options include whole wheat breads and pasta, brown rice, and bran cereal. Foods low on the glycemic index break down more slowly and don't cause drastic spikes in blood sugar.

  • Eat More Dietary Fiber

    Incorporation whole grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables into your eating plan is essential because these foods all contain fiber. "The Finnish Diabetes Prevention Study showed that the more fiber people ate, the more likely they were to prevent or slow their progression to type 2 diabetes," says nutritionist Hope Warshaw. Most Americans eat 14 to 17 grams of fiber a day, she says, far less than the recommended 25 grams a day.

    Action Step: Make a list of your favorite fruits and vegetables, along with their fiber counts. Refer to the list when you consume these foods, and enjoy tallying your high-fiber score.

  • Cut Back on Saturated Fats

    The Finnish Diabetes Prevention Study also showed that eating less saturated fat helped reduce the risk for developing diabetes. "Saturated fat is also known to cause insulin resistance," says nutritionist Hope Warshaw. She recommends limiting intake of foods high in saturated and trans fats, such as cheese, whole milk, butter, meats, and foods that contain partially hydrogenated fat.

    Action Step: Buy extra virgin olive oil and use it in place of butter. Choose low-fat or fat-free dairy products instead of full-fat versions.

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