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Lifestyle Changes Play a Major Role in Preventing and Managing Diabetes

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Type 2 diabetes is one of the most talked-about medical conditions these days.

That’s not surprising, given the enormous surge in the disease over the past few decades. The prospect of being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes strikes fear into the hearts of most people.

However, there are steps you can take to help protect yourself from developing diabetes and, if you are already diagnosed, to manage the disease and lower the risk of complications, such as heart disease, stroke, blindness and amputation.

There are some risk factors for Type 2 diabetes you can’t control, such as your family history and ethnicity, but there are several others you certainly can control.

Taking action can reduce your risk of developing the disease.

Diet. The modern American lifestyle, with food that is high in fat and simple carbohydrates, sets up our bodies to develop a number of diseases, including Type 2 diabetes. Some studies have suggested that a Mediterranean-style diet may help to lower the risk for diabetes and many other diseases. This type of diet focuses on such foods as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, olive oil, fish and, occasionally, small portions of lean red meat.

Exercise. Several studies have shown the positive role exercise can have in preventing diabetes. According to those studies, the greatest reduction in risk comes from a combination of aerobic activity and weight training.

The American Diabetes Association recommends 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every day.

Weight loss. The amount of weight loss needed to create a protective effect varies from person to person, according to the starting weight and other factors. However, this amount is often much less than you might think it would be. Even a few pounds can make a considerable difference. The American Diabetes Association suggests a modest weight loss of 5 to 10 percent if you are overweight.

One of the most important steps you can take to prevent diabetes and other common diseases is to commit to regular checkups with your physician. Most yearly physicals include blood work, and among the usual tests is one that checks the level of glucose (sugar) in your blood. A higher than normal level may indicate diabetes, and your doctor will investigate further.

Don’t wait for your annual physical to talk with your doctor about diabetes if you have any of the symptoms of the disease. These include, but aren’t limited to, an unusual increase in thirst or appetite, urinating more frequently than usual, changes in your vision, increased fatigue, numbness or tingling in your feet or legs, or just a sense that something is not quite right in your body.

If you have diabetes, it is vital to catch it at the earliest possible stage, before the disease has a chance to cause irreparable damage. If it is detected soon enough, you may be able to control the symptoms and slow the progression of the disease with lifestyle modifications and, possibly, an oral medication such as Metformin.

It is important to be aware that Metformin is not a substitute for healthy changes in your lifestyle.

Proper diet, exercise and weight loss are more effective at controlling diabetes than Metformin is on its own. In fact, some patients who make substantial positive lifestyle changes are able to stop taking oral medications altogether.

Most people want to avoid the discomfort, cost and inconvenience of insulin injections. That is why, if you’re diagnosed with diabetes, it is so important to work on lifestyle modifications, consistently take any medication your doctor prescribes and never skip checkup appointments.

People who are newly diagnosed with diabetes often feel they’ve been given a life sentence. While it’s true that you’ll have to make changes in order to successfully manage your diabetes, you can still live a full and active life.

You’ll be able to continue to enjoy most of the foods you love; you’ll just learn a new way to eat that includes plenty of flavorful, healthy options along with an occasional, moderate portion of less-healthy foods.

Ultimately, the goal is to live a life of wellness—mind, body and soul.

Angela Singh, M.D., is a board-certified family medicine physician with Alamo Hills Medical Group in Simi Valley and is a member of Adventist Health Physicians Network.