Your lifestyle choices matter most in controlling and preventing type 2 diabetes and reversing prediabetes. The goal of lifestyle improvements is to heighten your insulin action and blood glucose use, and physical activity and healthier eating undertaken together are best suited to do help you accomplish these goals.
Exercise truly is the best “medicine” for preventing diabetes. In fact, being active can prevent most health conditions, including heart disease and an early death. Start out slowly to avoid injuring yourself or losing your motivation. If you’ve been sedentary for ten years or more and have any pressing health concerns, consult your doctor before starting any higher intensity exercise.
Cardio, strength, toning, and flexibility exercises all have unique health benefits, so include them all in your weekly fitness routine. Vary the types of activities that you do to enhance your fitness and avoid injuries. Intersperse harder intervals into your cardio workouts to enhance their benefit. For best results, resistance train at least two to three days a week to optimize your muscle mass and insulin action. Also include body “core” exercises to prevent injuries and improve your balance.
Try to consume at least 50 grams of dietary fiber daily. Eat more vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, legumes (like black beans, garbanzo beans, and lentils), and whole grains (with all of their natural fiber intact) to increase your intake of fiber. It’s also okay to eat foods that have had fiber added to them, such as low carb tortilla shells and many pastas. Steer clear of processed carbs, which are all foods made with white flour and white sugar, as these have very little fiber and raise your blood glucose levels too rapidly for good health.
Adequate sleep is a key part of a healthy lifestyle and can benefit your heart, weight, mind, and more. Most people need 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night for optimal health. Getting less sleep than you really need is stressful to your body and causes your levels of cortisol (a hormone) to rise and make you more insulin resistant. Sleeping enough makes your insulin work better and helps to keep your blood glucose levels in check, and it can help you lose more weight if you’re dieting.
Lose your excuses for not exercising more or eating better. Your lifestyle changes need not be drastic, but they do have to become permanent to be effective. Motivation to exercise or eat better comes in many forms. Try out different strategies until you find the ones that work for you to make healthy lifestyle changes that last for the rest of your long and healthy life.
Sitting for long periods of time can kill you: new research has shown that prolonged sitting alters your metabolism for the worse. During the day at work, get up at least once every 30 minutes and stand up or walk around to improve how your body handles blood glucose and to burn more calories during the day. Taking more steps every day is the easiest and surest way to start moving more and preventing diabetes and other health problems.
Consider getting a pedometer to monitor your daily steps and motivate you to take more. Every bit of physical activity you do during the day counts, including standing, talking, and fidgeting—so just move more all day long. Also, put your more structured activities down on your calendar, keep track of your progress, and reward yourself for meeting your goals. Recruit an exercise buddy or two to join in the fun, find ways to distract yourself during workouts to make the time pass more quickly, and keep activities convenient, enjoyable, and varied to prevent excuses to avoid doing it.
The relative amount of carbohydrate, fat, and protein that you eat is not nearly as important as limiting your intake of particular foods that negatively impact your blood glucose and your health. Highly processed foods are simply bad for you. Stick with natural foods, high in fiber, phytonutrients, and good nutrition. Eat a wide variety of colorful fruits and vegetables for maximal antioxidant power. Limit your intake of refined “white” carbohydrates, added sugars, and processed meats (like sausage and lunch meats).
While dieting is not the way to go, losing just ten to fifteen pounds of fat will bring you almost all the health benefits of being at a normal weight. If you have lost weight, you’re most likely to keep it off by exercising regularly. Only exercise is truly effective at helping you lose “bad” visceral fat deep in your abdomen. Eat less calorie dense foods (but more of them) to avoid weight gain. Steer clear of most fast-food restaurants because eating out frequently will likely cause you to gain weight and become more insulin resistant.
It is likely that you have special emotional concerns from dealing with a health issue like prediabetes or excess body weight. Elevated levels of cortisol that associated with depression can make your insulin work less well. Your state of happiness is in your own hands, so adjust your thought patterns to take control over what you can influence, such as exercising daily to improve your mood and eating brain-healthy foods.
Adopting a healthier lifestyle is the key to preventing type 2 diabetes and its associated health problems. Focus on being more active on a daily basis (and moving more all day long), eating plenty of fiber and more foods in a more natural state, getting plenty of sleep, and managing your stress and your body weight. Reversing prediabetes to prevent type 2 diabetes should be your excuse to live a healthier lifestyle, not your “bad health” reason for not doing so. You can live a long and healthy life and avoid developing diabetes even if you already have prediabetes, and it’s never too late to start.
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