It used to be rare. We didn’t really grow up hearing much about diabetes, or maybe you might hear that your neighbor’s uncle had “sugar.” These days though everyone knows a person with diabetes and likely a family member. The prevalence of diabetes has almost doubled over the last 20 years, and the numbers are still rising with over 2 million new cases diagnosed every year. The major complications that come from diabetes include heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, loss of vision, kidney disease, nerve damage and amputation.
We all want to feel our best, especially as we look forward to retirement, and preventing diabetes is top on the list of ways to stay healthy and avoid unwanted medical problems.
What is Diabetes?
According to the CDC Type II Diabetes (the most common type) is a disorder that affects the way the body uses digested food for energy. Normally our food is digested into a sugar called glucose, where it is absorbed into the blood and used by the cells for energy. A hormone called insulin allows the glucose to enter the body’s cells. In the case of adult diabetes the body’s cells don’t use insulin properly and eventually glucose builds up in the blood and spills out into the urine.
Who Needs A Diabetes Test?
Talk to your PACT team to see if you might need a test. Usually adults over 45 or adults who are overweight and also have one of the following risk factors may need to be tested:
- Family history of diabetes
- Americans of African, Native, Asian, Hispanic/Latino and Pacific Island extraction]
- Being physically inactive
- High blood pressure (140/90 and above)
- Low “good” cholesterol (HDL below 35) or a triglycerides above 250
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome or gestational (pregnancy) diabetes
- History of heart disease
How to Prevent Diabetes
The CDC, National Institutes of Health and the National Diabetes Education Program have teamed up on some great programs to help prevent diabetes. They found that a modest weight loss of only 10-15 pounds can have a BIG impact on preventing or delaying diabetes. One of your best resources for weight loss is the MOVE! program at your local VA. Ask your PACT team for a referral! Here are the NIH recommendations on preventing diabetes:
Step 1: MOVE! More
Plan to get at least 30 minutes of physical activity 5 days each week to help you lose weight. You can get this amount in small ways throughout the day. If you have not been active, talk to your PACT team and start slowly to build up to your goal.
Here are some ideas to fit more physical activity into your day:
- Park your car farther away from stores, movie theaters, or your office.
- Use TV breaks to stretch, take a quick walk around your home, do some sit-ups, or march in place.
- Get your friends and family involved. Set a standing walking date. Or do something that everyone enjoys—shoot hoops, take a bike ride, or line dance.
- Walk during your lunch break.
- Deliver a message to a co-worker in person instead of by email. Take the stairs to your office instead of the elevator.
Step 2: Make Healthy Food Choices
Choose foods that are low in fat and sugar and high in fiber to help you lose weight. Limit portion sizes.
Start today to:
- Eat a variety of colorful vegetables and fruits.
- Choose whole grain foods—whole wheat bread and crackers, oatmeal, brown rice, and cereals.
- Lower fat intake—broil or bake poultry, meats, and fish instead of frying.
- Lighten your recipes by using nonfat or low-fat milk, yogurt, cheese, sour cream, cream cheese, or mayonnaise. Use cooking spray instead of oil.
- Avoid getting too hungry by eating a healthy snack between meals.
- Do not keep chips, cookies, or candy in your home. Instead, for snacks have raw vegetables, fruit, low-fat or nonfat yogurt, or a handful of nuts, pumpkinseeds, or sunflower seeds.
- Choose water to drink.
Step 3: Start Your GAME PLAN to Prevent Diabetes
The key to losing weight and preventing diabetes is to make long-term changes that work for you—every day.
Sarah Lacoma is based at the Fayetteville VA Medical Center, where she provides in-patient nutrition care.