November is Diabetes Awareness Month and it couldn’t come at a better time. Let’s face it, many of us have a stash of candy hidden away from Halloween and now we’re entering the season of eating. That’s why November is the ideal time to educate yourself about diabetes, your risk, and ways to prevent the disease.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a serious, chronic health condition that affects how your body turns food into energy. It occurs either because your body doesn’t make enough insulin (type 1 diabetes) or can’t use the insulin it makes as well as it should (type 2 diabetes), and as a result too much blood sugar stays in your bloodstream. Over time, this can cause serious health problems such as heart disease, vision loss, and kidney disease.
Diabetes is a major public health problem in the United States. According to the CDC, 34.2 million Americans — just over 1 in 10 — have diabetes, and one in five doesn’t even realize it. There is no cure for diabetes. Type 1 is not preventable; doctors are still trying to figure out why some people develop type 1 diabetes and others do not. Type 2, on the other hand, is preventable if caught during a stage called prediabetes.
What is prediabetes?
An estimated 88 million American adults – about 1 in 3 – have prediabetes which occurs when blood sugars are higher than normal, but not high enough yet to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes. It is possible to be prediabetic and not know it. In fact, the CDC estimates more than 84% of people with prediabetes are unaware. Prediabetes often goes unnoticed because there are no clear symptoms, but it is serious and puts you at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. The good news is, it is possible to delay or even prevent type 2 diabetes. So, if you are at risk, talk to your doctor who can order a blood sugar test to see if it is in normal range.
Prevent or manage your diabetes
The following lifestyle changes can help manage your diabetes, or if you are prediabetic, help delay the onset of the disease or prevent it entirely.
- Lose weight – Losing even a small amount of weight (about 5% to 7% of your body weight) can lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
- Stay active – Regular exercise is important. The CDC recommends getting at least 150 minutes a week of brisk walking or a similar activity. That’s just 30 minutes a day, five days a week.
- Eat healthy – Develop a healthy-eating plan. Make sure your diet is full of healthy carbohydrates, fiber-rich foods, fish and “good” fats. Steer clear of foods high in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol and sodium.
- Manage stress – When you’re stressed you’re more likely to overeat, but stress can also affect your blood glucose levels. Consider meditation or yoga to help reduce stress, or take an extra walk.
- Find a support group – The CDC’s National Diabetes Prevention Program can help you make necessary — and lasting — lifestyle changes. These programs are offered across the United States in partnership with public and private organizations to help participants reduce their risk of type 2 diabetes.
Don’t wait until January to make a resolution for better health. The time to take action and implement lifestyle changes is now. If you’re worried about depriving yourself of your favorite holiday treats, don’t be. You can find healthy alternatives to many classic recipes, or you can make room in your healthy eating plan for an occasional indulgence. Eating healthy does not mean depriving yourself of the good stuff, it means making smart choices for your long-term health.