• Simple and Effective Strategies to Prevent Diabetes

    Friday, July 19th, 2024

    by Marwan Hamaty, MD

    You may be surprised to know that one out of four people has pre-diabetes, or elevated blood glucose, putting them at a higher risk for developing cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

    Unfortunately, there are no clear warning symptoms of pre-diabetes. A person may have diabetes and not even realize it.

    To avoid diabetes, I recommend that my patients eat a healthy diet and pursue a healthy lifestyle. Regular exercise and adherence to a healthy diet are equally important in preventing diabetes — and it’s important to focus on both.

    If you are at risk for type 2 diabetes, exercise and a healthy diet are your two most important weapons.

    Type 2 Diabetes: Risk Factors

    Risk factors for type 2 diabetes include a family history of diabetes and being overweight. Too much body weight prevents your body from manufacturing and using insulin properly.

    Indeed, just how overweight you are matters: the higher the body weight, the higher the risk of diabetes.

    To prevent diabetes, it is vital that you “know your numbers.” Research shows that treatment of diabetes with modest lifestyle changes often returns blood sugar levels to normal and lowers the risk for developing diabetes by 58 percent or more.

    You are at a higher risk for type 2 diabetes if:

    • You are of Hispanic American, American Indian, African American, and Asian American or Pacific Islander heritage.

    If you fall into any of the above categories, you should be checked with a blood glucose test by ages 40 to 45. Younger people, if you are overweight and have a family history, should also consider getting tested.

    Diabetes is being seen by doctors at much earlier ages than in the past, even as young as in the teens, because of our current society’s inactivity and consequent obesity.

    Exercise: The Magic Bullet

    Regular moderate exercise not only helps with weight loss, but also maintains blood glucose, blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides at optimal levels.

    walking-for-weight-lossModerate physical activity of just 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week can be of great help in preventing diabetes.

    Exercises for diabetes prevention may include:

    • Simple activities: walking, using the stairs instead of elevators, and staying active throughout the day.
    • Aerobic exercises: brisk walking, bike riding, and swimming.
    • Flexibility exercises like vigorous stretching.
    • Strength training with weights.

    The Importance of a Healthy Diet

    In addition to helping to prevent diabetes, the wonderful thing about eating a healthy diet is that it controls cholesterol and keeps your blood pressure in check.

    How much food you eat is key. Portion control is vital, even if you’re eating all the “right” foods.

    Here are some guidelines for a healthy diabetes-prevention diet:

    • Consume foods that are low in animal and/or saturated fats.
    • Seek out foods that are high in fiber.
    • Avoid eating simple sugars.
    • Get your protein from sources low in saturated fat: chicken (unfried) turkey, fish.
    • Make sure your vegetable protein is also high in fiber: for example, beans, portabella and other varieties of mushrooms, veggie burgers.
    • Consume dairy protein that is fat-free: examples include egg substitutes, skim and soy milk.
    • Use canola and olive oil in cooking as both contain unsaturated fats.

    Exercise and a Healthy Diet are Always Beneficial

    colored-vegetables-heart-healthExercise and a healthy diet also work to prevent diabetes among those of us who don’t need to lose weight.

    Despite being at a normal weight or only slightly overweight, the benefits of a healthier lifestyle remain in place for individuals who are at risk for diabetes due to other factors.

    Medications to Prevent Diabetes

    Doctors may prescribe medications for individuals diagnosed with pre-diabetes, before full-fledged diabetes takes hold.

    The drugs metformin and acarbose help when diet and exercise are not providing sufficient benefit — but these medications are no substitute for the real thing.

    In clinical trials, dietary management and regular exercise were found to be superior to both acarbose and metformin.

    In summary, diet and exercise are cheaper, healthier and the only side effects are good ones.

    (published April 21, 2014)

    dr marwan hamatyMarwan Hamaty, MD, MBA, is a staff physician in the Endocrinology & Metabolism Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Dr. Hamaty is board certified in Endocrinology, Diabetes & Metabolism. His specialties include diabetes, pre-diabetes, polycystic ovary disease, thyroid disorders, osteoporosis, parathyroid disorders, adrenal disorders, pituitary disorders and male hypogonadism. He is a frequent contributor to Cleveland Clinic’s Health Hub, a consumer health and wellness blog.