Diabetes Prevention and Risk Factors: What You Can and Can’t Avoid
There are a number of risk factors for diabetes, and, depending on the type, there are also ways to prevent the disease. Even when it’s not possible to prevent diabetes, there are ways to lessen its effects. If you have Type I diabetes, managing your condition is the main focus. This type of diabetes comes about from a lack of insulin production in the body, and is generally not considered to be preventable.
Type II diabetes, however, can be caused by lifestyle choices. That means you can make changes that can improve or even reverse your condition, or stop you from getting diabetes in the first place. For purposes of this article, the focus will be on Type II diabetes.
Tobacco Use Can Be a Factor
People who smoke are more likely to be diabetic. While there isn’t necessarily a direct link between tobacco and diabetes, people who smoke usually have less healthy lifestyles than non-smokers. That’s not always the case, of course. There are even athletes who occasionally smoke a cigarette. But most people who smoke, especially those who smoke heavily, lead lives burdened by other unhealthy habits. This can include drinking too much, overeating, not getting adequate rest, and working jobs that are stressful or hard on the body. For that reason, smoking may help reduce diabetes risk.
When people quit smoking, it’s often as part of a lifestyle change that will help them be healthier and feel better about themselves overall. This can give them the incentive they need to lose weight, get more exercise, get better sleep, and even see their doctor more frequently. With that in mind, it’s important to note that quitting tobacco, in and of itself, isn’t necessarily proven to reduce the risk of diabetes. But anything that makes you healthier overall can reduce your chances of developing a chronic disease, and that may be enough to make quitting smoking worthwhile to a large number of current smokers.
Does Your Diet Really Affect Diabetes?
Among the biggest factors that contribute to diabetes is your diet. What you eat, and how much of it, really matters. That doesn’t mean you can never indulge in something that is unhealthy or that has too much sugar in it, but repeated indulgence in those kinds of things can definitely put you at risk for developing diabetes. Over time, your body will struggle to process all of the sugar you’re ingesting, and that can leave you feeling overly stressed out and uncomfortable. Sugar can make you feel hyperactive, and your body has to work overtime to process that sugar and get it out of your system to return things to normal.
Insulin, which is made in the pancreas, is what does this job most efficiently. But eventually the pancreas can become overwhelmed. It won’t produce as much insulin, or your body won’t use it as efficiently, so the same amount of sugar that might have been fine before will become too much. Your blood sugar will rise and it will stay elevated for longer than it would have in the past. That can cause serious problems, because high blood sugar damages organs and blood vessels. It’s very hard on your body’s systems, and not something you want uncontrolled if it can be avoided. In many cases, avoidance is possible.
Your Body Weight May Increase Diabetes Risk
Coupled with your diet is the issue of body weight. If you weigh more than you should (and you can determine if this is the case by talking to your doctor or using a BMI (body mass index) chart online, your blood sugar is likely to be high. Even if it isn’t now, studies have proven that being overweight or obese contributes to high blood sugar and the development of diabetes. If you aren’t sure whether your blood sugar levels are too high, or what you should weigh for your height, your doctor can help you get information to start making healthier lifestyle choices. Losing even a little bit of weight can help your blood sugar decrease.
If you struggle to lose weight, there are options for you and programs that can help you. Don’t put it off because it can be difficult. It’s extremely rewarding to see a lower number on the scale, and it will be a very good choice for your body and your blood sugar levels. The more overweight or obese you become, the more difficult it is for your body to properly process the food you put into it, and that includes sugary foods that make up a lot of the diet of many people who carry extra weight. While loving and appreciating yourself at any size is important, weighing less is a better option for reducing diabetes risk.
Exercise Can Help Stabilize Blood Sugar
Whether you need to lose weight or not, one of the ways you can help reduce and stabilize your blood sugar is through exercise. Depending on your current weight, health, and activity levels, exercise could be something as simple as taking a walk everyday. In time, you can work your way up to doing more than that. If you’re already relatively fit, running, jogging, lifting weights, or playing sports are other good forms of exercise. There are plenty of great ways to get moving, even if it’s light exercise like walking your dog in the park. Push yourself just a little bit each time, and soon you’ll be a lot more active.
In just a few months of getting more exercise, you can see your blood sugar numbers come down. It’s important that you exercise consistently, though, so you can reduce your numbers and keep them low. If you only get a little exercise once or twice a week, it may not be enough to reduce your diabetes risk or prevent you from developing the disease. Thirty minutes three times per week is the recommendation, but if you like to exercise and can do more that’s also good, as long as your doctor okays it. Not only could you see better blood sugar numbers, but you’ll be healthier overall, as well.
What is Prediabetes, and Can You Get Rid of It?
Prediabetes is having a fasting blood sugar level that is elevated, but not yet high enough to be considered diabetic. If you’re prediabetic, the time to take action is now. In some cases it can be reversed and you’ll never develop diabetes at all. In other cases it can at least be kept at that level, so you aren’t putting yourself at nearly as much health risk as you would if you actually had diabetes. Consider changing your diet, losing weight, and getting more exercise if you have prediabetic blood sugar numbers. You’ll be glad you made those changes as you reduce your risk and see your blood sugar improve.
As it happens, millions of people around the world are prediabetic. This condition is so widespread because of the epidemic of overweight and obesity seen in the US and many other developed countries today. Processed food has contributed to the increase in prediabetes as well: Because much processed food has such high levels of sugar, the body often struggles to deal with it. There are ways to avoid a lot of these foods, though, by purchasing fresh items and cooking at home. Buying sugar-free items is also an option, but these often have other risks such as chemicals that can be harmful to some people and which have not yet been fully tested for safety.
Is Age Raising Your Diabetes Risk?
As you age, your body simply isn’t as efficient with some things as it once was. That can mean that the same diet and exercise program that worked for you in your 20s won’t be the right choice for you in your 50s. You may start to put on weight even though you eat the same way, and you may find that your blood sugar numbers are rising even when you don’t eat a lot of sugary or processed foods. While medication can certainly help you, you may be able to prevent the development of diabetes by making changes. Reducing your sugar and your calorie intake, and swapping some of your choices for healthier options can help.
Genetics Can Increase the Risk of Diabetes
For some people, avoiding diabetes just isn’t possible because of their genetic makeup and the level of risk they have. That’s true of those who have Type I, but also true for Type II in some cases. If you have a strong family history of diabetes, you may develop the disease even if you do everything right. Keep that in mind, and see your doctor regularly. Even if you can’t prevent diabetes, starting early on developing a healthy lifestyle and keeping on top of your blood sugar will enable you to reduce the severity of the disease’s effects, and will allow you to maintain your health for much longer than you would otherwise.
In just a few months of getting more exercise, you can see your blood sugar numbers come down
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