Modifying risk factors can make you healthier
Most people have heard of diabetes and know that it’s a condition when blood glucose (sugar) levels are high. What many may not know is that high blood glucose can lead to damage to a lot of organs and tissues throughout the body. People with diabetes often develop heart disease, eye issues, kidney problems and more. The most common type of diabetes is type 2, when a person’s body makes plenty of insulin, but it doesn’t get used correctly.
Some things put a person at risk for type 2 diabetes that cannot be controlled. These include factors like age, race, family history and whether or not you had diabetes when you were pregnant (gestational diabetes). However, there are some risk factors that can be modified or changed. While changing these risk factors doesn’t guarantee that you won’t get diabetes, the risk does decrease. Below are some of the modifiable risk factors for type 2 diabetes that you can look at right now if you want to lower your risk.
The first risk factor that can be changed is smoking. Smoking, specifically tobacco, puts your body more at risk for developing type 2 diabetes and the complications that come after it, like heart, circulation, kidney and eye problems. It is very difficult to stop smoking, but there are lots of products and programs that can help you quit, so talk to your health care provider.
Heavy drinking – more than one drink per day for women or two drinks per day for men – can damage the pancreas and liver, both of which are important in controlling blood glucose. It is recommended that you decrease the amount of alcohol you drink and possibly even substitute “mocktails” or non-alcoholic alternatives.
Weight, physical activity and diet tend to go together, but not always. However, if you are overweight or obese, losing just 5-10% of your body weight can make your risk of diabetes lower. For example, weighing 200 pounds is just 10-20 pounds of weight loss.
Physical activity is key in helping your body use insulin more effectively. For most people, it’s recommended to set a goal of 150 minutes per week of aerobic activity, like walking, biking or swimming. This breaks down to about 30 minutes five days a week. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be done all at the same time – 10 minutes three times a day still equals 30 minutes.
Diet and Nutrition
There is no one “right” diet to prevent diabetes, but there are some good general rules. Most health care providers will tell you that a healthy diet includes a lot of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, poultry and fish, and beans. It should not have a lot of red meat, saturated fats, salt (sodium), highly processed foods (with many chemical ingredients), sugar or sweets.
Blood pressure and cholesterol Diabetes often goes hand in hand with other risk factors for heart disease, like high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol. Therefore, it is important that you keep these numbers under control as well. Fortunately, many of the same things that keep blood glucose where it should be can also help to keep blood pressure and cholesterol at goal. There are medications that can help with this as well.
Knowing what causes you stress and finding ways to manage it can play an essential role in mental health. Mental health concerns have been shown to contribute to both diabetes and heart disease. Therefore, finding time and ways to manage your stress may lower your risk. Stress management may include physical activity, meditation, religion, time with family and friends, or hobbies you enjoy.
Lastly, too much or too little sleep has been linked to type 2 diabetes. Most adults should get seven to nine hours of sleep each night. If you are getting a lot more or less than this, talk to your health care provider about it, as there are tests that may need to be done to diagnose sleep problems. However, there are also methods and medications that can help.
These modifiable risk factors are the focus of the National Diabetes Prevention Program (NDPP), sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and other organizations. People can enroll in the NDPP, often at no charge, to help them learn how to make necessary changes to prevent diabetes. If you would like more information about the NDPP or to find a location near you that is enrolling people to participate, go to: https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/prevention/index.html.
If you want to know how high your risk is for getting type 2 diabetes, you can complete the American Diabetes Association risk tool at https://diabetes.org/tools-resources/tests-calculators/
Emily Weidman-Evans, PharmD, is a physician assistant studies clinical professor at LSU Health Shreveport.