Exercise and weight control are among the most effective ways to prevent diabetes.
If predictions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention come true, 1 in 3 adults in the U.S. could have diabetes by 2050. At least 33 percent of Americans already have prediabetes, meaning their blood glucose levels are higher than normal but are not yet high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. If you have prediabetes, you are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, and your risk for cardiovascular disease is already increased. You may be able to prevent the onset of diabetes by adopting a healthier lifestyle.
Type 2 diabetes accounts for 95 percent of diabetes cases in American adults. As with other types of diabetes, type 2 diabetes is characterized by hyperglycemia, or high blood glucose levels. Another hallmark of type 2 diabetes is insulin resistance, which means your cells do not respond normally to the insulin your pancreas produces. Because insulin helps drive glucose into your cells where it can be burned for energy, insulin resistance contributes to hyperglycemia by slowing the removal of glucose from your bloodstream.
Research has established a firm link between obesity and insulin resistance. According to a study published in the February 2012 issue of вЂњPloS One,вЂќ taking in too many calories and obesity trigger immune responses that diminish your cells' ability to respond to insulin. Other studies show that people who have prediabetes may be able to prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes by losing 5 to 7 percent of their body weight.
Your muscles are the most insulin-sensitive tissues in your body, according to a June 2004 review in вЂњAmerican Family Physician.вЂќ Muscles must have glucose to function efficiently, but their ability to store their own glucose is limited. Exercise promotes glucose uptake and reduces fat storage in muscle tissue, regardless of your current body weight.
A combination of resistance and aerobic exercise -- alternating between weight training and brisk walking, for example -- is best for improving glucose utilization. The impact of physical activity on insulin resistance only lasts 24 to 48 hours, though, so you must exercise regularly if you are trying to prevent, delay or control type 2 diabetes.
Limit Refined Carbohydrates
The type and quality of carbohydrates you eat could have a significant impact on your chances for developing type 2 diabetes. Specifically, eating too many refined carbohydrates -- sugary drinks, pastries, cookies and white bread -- is associated with a greater risk for diabetes. A 2011 report in вЂњNutrition ReviewsвЂќ indicated that type 2 diabetes is more common in cultures where a higher proportion of the diet is composed of refined carbohydrates, rather than vegetables, whole grains, legumes and other complex carbohydrates. So, eating more complex carbohydrates and fewer refined carbohydrates could reduce your chances of developing diabetes.
While doctors can use blood tests to determine who is at risk for either type 1 or type 2 diabetes, only type 2 diabetes can be delayed or prevented at this time. Type 1 diabetes is caused by immune destruction of the pancreatic cells that produce insulin, and no effective therapy is yet available to prevent this process.
In contrast, type 2 diabetes may be largely preventable by changing your diet, losing weight and exercising more. The role of medications in preventing type 2 diabetes has not been clarified. Clinical trials suggest that metformin (Glucophage) may one day be widely used for improving insulin sensitivity in people with prediabetes, and some doctors are already using it for this purpose. Ask your doctor how you can avoid developing diabetes.