TO MANY AMERICANS, diabetes mellitus is “what Grandma had.” And they don’t give it another thought. But diabetes is downright terrifying, a disease whose tentacles reach into the scariest of health complications: blindness, amputation, kidney disease, nerve damage, peripheral arterial disease, heart attack, and stroke.
While family history, race, and age all play a role in your risk for developing Type 2 diabetes—and these factors can’t be changed—some people can decrease additional risk of developing the disease by maintaining a healthy body weight and getting regular exercise.
The more fatty tissue you carry on your body, specifically in your abdomen area, the more resistant your cells become to insulin, according to the Mayo Clinic. And being a couch potato doesn’t help. Not only does physical activity help you control weight, exercise actually makes your cells more sensitive to insulin so it can regulate blood sugar more effectively.
More than 78 million Americans are dangerously close to developing Type 2 diabetes. They have what’s known as pre-diabetes or metabolic syndrome, characterized by consistently high blood-sugar levels. Scariest of all: Most of them don’t know they have it—including, unfortunately, some of you reading this magazine.
What you can do
The welcome news in all this is that people can achieve a healthy weight by making some simple lifestyle changes. Diabetes researchers say that many people can prevent Type 2 diabetes (in some cases, even reverse it) by losing weight, exercising, stopping smoking, and eating a healthier diet rich in vegetables, whole grains, and nutrient-dense fruits. Below you’ll find specific actions you can do to protect yourself and your family—right now.
(Note: For safety, have a physical exam and discuss any fitness and diet changes with your physician.)
Go with the grain. Avoid carbohydrates with a high glycemic load, such as cookies, cakes, and sugary cereals. These foods cause spikes in blood sugar. Instead, choose whole grains such as whole-wheat bread, brown rice, whole-grain pasta, and oatmeal. These starches are more difficult for digestive enzymes to break down into glucose, which results in lower increases in blood sugar and insulin.
Lose weight. Studies show that even a 5 to 7 percent drop in body weight—11.5 to 16 pounds for a 230-pound person—significantly reduces your risk of developing diabetes. In the 2002 Diabetes Prevention Program study sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), some participants cut their diabetes risk in half by losing 7 percent of their body weight. You can lose one pound a week just by cutting about 500 calories from your diet.
Skip the soda. Sweet tea, sugary sodas, and even fruit juices have a high glycemic load. Filled with empty calories, sugary beverages cause weight gain when consumed on a regular basis.
In a 2004 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, women who drank one or more servings of sugar-sweetened beverages per day had an 83 percent higher risk of Type 2 diabetes than women who drank less than one sugary beverage per month. Choose water and unsweetened tea instead.
Turn off the TV, go for a hike. Every two hours of TV watching boosts diabetes risk 14 percent. By contrast, walking briskly for 30 minutes a day drops it 30 percent, according to the 2003 Harvard health study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Daily brisk walking is the easiest way to control your weight.
Making exercise routine is a key to prevention. Your muscles lose insulin efficiency—less ability to use glucose for energy—after just two days of inactivity.
Eat nuts, not dogs. Instead of eating a hot dog, have a handful of almonds. Replacing one daily serving of red meat with a serving of nuts lowers your diabetes risk by 21 percent, according to researchers in a 2010 study by the Harvard School of Public Health. Processed red meats (about 50 grams) such as cold cuts and hot dogs contain nitrites and nitrates, preservatives that have been linked to a risk of developing diabetes.
Make muscle. Start lifting weights. UCLA researchers reporting recently in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism believe building muscle mass can help lower your risk for Type 2 diabetes. The scientists found that for each 10 percent increase in the ratio of muscle mass to total body weight there was an 11 percent reduction in insulin resistance.
You have the power to reduce your risk of Type 2 diabetes, but it takes know-how and the discipline to change the American way of eating. For more diabetes resources, visit diabetes.org.
Get active, earn a patch
Start a new exercise routine and earn a BSA patch with the SCOUTStrong Presidential Active Lifestyle Award (PALA). The BSA and the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition have teamed to offer a Scout-specific PALA challenge where successful participants can purchase the exclusive, co-branded SCOUTStrong PALA award patch for $1.99 (No. 614207).
To earn the SCOUTStrong PALA Award a participant is required to meet a daily activity goal of 30 minutes a day for adults and 60 minutes a day for kids for at least 5 days a week, 6 out of 8 weeks. Stick with the program and they’ll earn an award in less than two months. You can learn more about logging your exercise and earning the award by clicking here.
3 exercises to Build muscle fast
For fastest muscle growth, focus on your largest muscle groups—your legs, chest, and back. Good exercises are deadlifts (legs), bench presses (chest), and bent-over rows (back). You can do them with a pair of dumbbells. For each exercise, do three sets of 12 repetitions, resting about 30 seconds between sets. Get your doctor’s approval before starting any new exercise routine.
Dumbbell Deadlift: Place a dumbbell on the floor next to your right ankle and another next to your left. Bend at your hips and knees (not your back) and grasp the handles of the weights with a palms-facing-in grip. Without rounding your back, stand up with the weights as you push your hips forward slightly. Bend your knees and hips to return the dumbbells to the floor.
Dumbbell Bench Press: Lie on your back on a flat exercise bench if you have one; otherwise, lie flat on the floor (this is not recommended if you have a bad back). Ask a friend to carefully hand you a pair of dumbbells. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, arms straight above your chest, your palms facing forward. Slowly lower the weights to the sides of your chest and then press them quickly up until your arms are straight again.
Dumbbell Bent-Over Row: Stand holding a dumbbell in each hand with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Bend at the hips until your torso is not quite parallel to the floor. Allow the weights to pull your arms straight below your shoulders. Your palms should be facing behind you.Now pull the weights up to the sides of your chest. At the top of the movement, squeeze your shoulder blades together. Slowly lower the weights and repeat.
What’s causing our diabetes epidemic?
While there may not be definitive clinical evidence that overconsumption of food can cause diabetes, experts agree there is a strong correlation between increased weight gain, especially obesity, and the incidence of Type 2 diabetes. So maybe the better question to answer is why are Americans getting fatter?
One needs only to go out for a bite for a clue: Muffins the size of grapefruits, totaling more than 400 calories. Super-size sodas. Restaurant entrées that could feed a family of four. Over the past 20 years, food-portion sizes have been ballooning right along with the obesity epidemic. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) now says one-third of adult Americans are obese. From 1980 to 2008, obesity rates have doubled for adults and tripled for children.
We’re consuming more calories than ever before, and many of those are empty calories from sugary drinks and processed carbohydrates. In short, we are eating ourselves into a very unhealthy America.
Jeff Csatari’s latest book is The New Abs Diet Cookbook, co-written with David Zinczenko, available at menshealth.com/abs-diet-cookbook.