By Dr. Wayne Andersen, co-founder of Take Shape for Life
Type 2 diabetes is the most common kind of diabetes, accounting for more than 90% of cases. People are at the highest risk if they are overweight or obese. In addition, advancing age, smoking, and inactive lifestyles increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Complications of this common illness can be serious. Chonically high blood sugar can damage nerves and blood vessels, affecting your eyes, kidneys, and heart. You can develop hardening of your arteries, which in turn can lead to heart attack or stroke.
Type 2 diabetes is on the rise, mirroring our increasing rate of weight gain. It’s important to understand that our obesigenic (fat-producing) environment is taking a toll on our health through type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic conditions that are the result of poor diet, insufficient sleep, and a sedentary lifestyle. Prescription medications treat the symptoms of the disease instead of creating health. Though we cannot change our world overnight, we can change how we respond to it. Changing our focus from reacting to what is wrong to creating what we want in terms of our health is critical. We make over a 1,000 small choices a day, which either contribute to, or erode, our overall physical health. We CAN create health—and here’s how.
Control your calories
Just a 10% reduction in your body weight lowers your risk, so go for it! Use a plate system, similar to the one recently adopted by the USDA, to help you decrease your caloric intake and create a healthy balance of fruits, vegetables, protein, and carbohydrates. Read food labels. Look at the serving size, since many packages provide more than one serving. Then be aware of the carbohydrates per serving, because carbohydrates are the main nutrient that affects your blood sugar control.
If you smoke, stop
The negative impact of tobacco and smoking dwarfs all other risks to your heart. Toxic chemicals produced by smoking leads to narrowing of your arteries, which increases both blood pressure and heart rate. It also lowers your supply of oxygen as your heart has to work harder after being exposed to harmful agents. Cessation is the only option if you truly want to have a healthy heart.
Increase daily activity
Exercise is very important in avoiding and managing type 2 diabetes and in maintaining cardiovascular health. Regular exercise will also lower high blood pressure and reduce inflammation, another key contributor to heart disease. By choosing the stairs over the elevator, standing rather than sitting, using a rake for the leaves rather than the blower or simply opening our cans with a can opener, we are making a small but positive effect on our heart health. Throw in a 30-minute period of more intense exercise such as running, interval training or swimming 4-5 days a week and you will significantly increase the health benefit to your heart and decrease your risk of diabetes. Regular exercise increases insulin sensitivity to help control diabetes. Just be aware of the risk of low blood sugar while exercising, and have a plan in place to treat it.
Eat healthy foods with a low glycemic index (GI)
Low-GI foods are those that cause a slow or minimal increase in blood sugar level. They also control hunger and make you feel fuller longer. By eating lower GI starches and sugars, like whole wheat bread and sweet potatoes as opposed to white bread and white potatoes, you avoid big surges of blood sugar and insulin, which cause fat storage and inflammation that can lead to heart disease. Lower your daily fat intake to <25% (I recommend 20%), with less than 7% coming from saturated fats. Eliminating all trans-fats should be a priority, so dump the deep fried fast foods, bakery products, packaged snack foods, margarines, and crackers. Just say no to doughnuts! Also, reduce red meats, dairy products (except low-fat) and avoid coconut and palm oils completely. Increase your intake of mono-saturated fats such as olive oil, canola oil and omega 3 from sources like salmon and mackerel, flaxseed oil, and soybean oil.
Get enough sleep
High blood sugar is often found among people who get a low amount of sleep. A large study of 71,000 female nurses found that women who sleep less than five hours a night were 45% more likely to have heart problems and those who slept six hours were at a 20% higher risk than those who slept seven or more. On top of that, a lack of quality sleep increases your risk of weight gain, immunity problems, and raises your inflammatory markers, which directly increases a risk to your heart health. Ideally, most people need at least 6-7 hours of quality, uninterrupted sleep each and every night.
For many of us, type 2 diabetes is preventable. By creating health now, one habit at a time, you lower your risk of diabetes and many other serious chronic diseases, and give yourself the gift of a happier, more fulfilling—and maybe even longer—life!