A big question. Before I get to more on that, let me tell you about an epiphany I had 12 years ago.
I was sitting around a backyard table with my extended family. My uncle, who has been overweight as long as I’ve known him, began listing all his health problems. I’d always known he was unhealthy and had diabetes, but when he started naming off all the medications he takes and mentioning how he’s supposed to (but apparently doesn’t) pay careful attention to everything he eats, I decided I didn’t want to live that life when I got older.
I realized that the conditions my uncle was listing, particularly his diabetes and weight problem, were the manifestations of the lifestyle decisions he’s made. I also don’t think he acknowledged how making different choices, focused on prevention, could have greatly changed the trajectory of his life…and still can. It hit me: diabetes is potentially something most of us can all control.
Over the years, as my uncle’s health problems have continued to mount, I’ve attempted to convince him that it’s never too late to adopt a healthy lifestyle. Some of his conditions, especially diabetes, would benefit greatly from eating better and getting some exercise. Although every case is different, there is evidence that a diabetic could potentially improve their condition, possibly being able to go off their medication (with their doctor’s permission, of course), because they changed their lifestyle.
Maybe you’ve experienced a similar situation with a family member or friend… or maybe you suffer from diabetes yourself. So here are the two big tips I’ve given my uncle about how he can control his diabetes. Unfortunately, I can’t use his example as a success story at the moment, but these preventative/control measures have been proven to work. If you’re at high risk for type 2 diabetes, meaning it’s in your family or you’re overweight, try incorporating these changes into your lifestyle immediately rather than hoping that a pricey little pill (with the potential to cause nasty side effects) will save you from the disease.
Tip 1: Don’t discount the importance of exercise, even if you’re starting small. Yes, when you’re tired or overweight, exercising is the last thing you want to do. But it’s essential to add to your life in some way if you want to get on the road to controlling or eliminating your diabetes. The good news is that you don’t need to jump into the deep end and start training for a marathon or a power-lifting contest; just do what you can. This can be something as simple as dedicating 20 minutes per day for a light walk, running errands on foot, or even gardening. My uncle has always loved the water, so I told him that he should go for a swim once or twice a week, and work up to every day when he can. As you become more active, you can start to dedicate more time and effort, maybe trying more challenging exercises. Including physical activity in your daily life helps with weight loss, lowers blood sugar, and boosts sensitivity to insulin.
Tip 2: Pile on the fiber. I’ll tell you what I told my uncle: Eating more fiber and whole grains can also help control and prevent diabetes. Fibrous food options improve blood sugar control, lower the risk of heart disease, and promote weight loss by creating a feeling of fullness. Eating whole grains also helps reduce blood sugar because of their slow absorption rate. For this same reason, they are more easily used for sustained energy instead of being quickly stored as fat! Examples of high-fiber foods are oats, whole grains, seeds, fruits, vegetables, and beans. Check labels to find breads, pastas, and cereals with oats or whole grains. Other good forms of slow-absorbing complex carbohydrates are sweet potatoes and brown rice.
By adopting a better diet and increasing physical activity, you should experience some weight loss, which is a great way to lower the risk for type 2 diabetes. One study noted that people who lost a little bit of weight—only seven percent of initial bodyweight—reduced the risk of type 2 diabetes by 60%. The study participants with these results were exercising regularly throughout the trial.
I keep telling my uncle that it’s never too late to adopt a healthier lifestyle to save himself down the line. The effects of these decisions can be immediate and long-lasting, so even if you think you’re too old, too far gone, or too sick, you can still make progress. Type 2 diabetes can lead to a host of other problems, such as kidney and nerve damage and heart problems. And who wants to worry about those issues, especially with the costs of health care today?
Sources for Today’s Article:
NIDDK, “Diabetes Prevention Program,” National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse web site, October 2008; http://diabetes.niddk.nih.gov/dm/pubs/preventionprogram/, last accessed May 15, 2014.
Brink, W., “Reversing Diabetes,” Brinkzone web site, June 28, 2013; http://www.brinkzone.com/general-fitness-info/reversing-diabetes/, last accessed May 15, 2014.