Type 2 Diabetes – an old person’s disease and something us young people need not worry about. Wrong! Diabetes is something that is on the rise among the younger generation as a direct result of the increasing problem of obesity. While it is correct that it is a condition seen more in the older generation, preventing type 2 diabetes is something we should all pay attention to because we, too, are aging. With November being Diabetes awareness month, I have put together a guide to preventing and managing type 2 diabetes.
What is type 2 diabetes?
Type 2 diabetes is a common chronic health problem, both in the developed and developing world. Blood sugar is not regulated correctly, either because the hormone responsible for this, Insulin, is not produced or is unable to do its job. Insulin works by moving glucose from the bloodstream into cells where it is used to produce energy. Those with Type 2 diabetes have high levels of blood glucose. The consequences of this can be very serious: kidney failure, blindness, and limb amputations are some of the outcomes that can result if diabetes is not managed correctly.
There are a number of risk factors which are known to predispose certain individuals to develop this condition. Age, ethnic background and family history as well as obesity are all factors that play a role. Those of South Asian, African-Caribbean and Black African heritage are known to be at increased risk. Being overweight leads to insulin resistance as the extra fat interferes with how the hormone works; weight and lifestyle are among the two modifiable risk factors. Other conditions, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome, can also put you at increase of diabetes.
The symptoms and signs of diabetes include:
- Weight loss
- Increased thirst
- Blurred vision
- Slow healing of wounds
Prevention and management
Exercise and a healthy diet are the cornerstone for preventing, reversing and managing type 2 diabetes. Medication may be needed by some to help them manage their type 2 diabetes, however lifestyle factors also play a major role in the development and progression of diabetes.
Studies have shown that with regular physical activity a reduction is seen in the risk of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Not only does it play a role in prevention, complying with a regular exercise program improve insulin resistance in those who have diabetes. Evidence shows high intensity interval training produces greater benefits on overall insulin resistance. Both aerobic, such as walking or running, and resistance exercises can induce help improve the body’s glucose control.
What can you do:
- Take regular walks for at least 10-15 minutes
- Include exercise that raises your heart rate – this could be simply speed walking in the park to start off with
- Try to incorporate resistance exercises into your week – this does not mean you have to lift weights at the gym but can involve some simple bodyweight exercises or use of resistance bands at home
- Simple daily tasks can be seen as a form of exercise – read one of my old posts here.
- See a personal trainer who can help you develop a reasonable and effective workout plan
The food you eat impacts your risk of diabetes and the control of glucose levels if you have diabetes. Carbohydrates, more than other macronutrients, causes insulin levels to increase. Therefore, one of the ways to reduce insulin levels is to cut down on certain types of carbohydrates.
Evidence shows the Mediterranean diet has a positive effect on weight loss and sugar control. What does that mean? A high consumption of plant based foods, healthy sources of fat such as olive oil, fish and poultry and a low consumption of red processed meat. Does this mean we should all adopt the cuisine of the Greek? No. We can take away a few basic concepts from this as well as adding in some other key nutrition facts to help you develop a diet that will help your combat and control diabetes.
- Maintain a good balance, with high protein and complex carbohydrate diet.
- Protein and fats help to maintain satiety, keeping you fuller for longer, so it is key to include them in your meals.
- Eat a variety of fruit and vegetables as a source of fibre – the more colourful your plate the better!
- Cut down on processed, simple and refined carbohydrates – say no to sweets and chocolate!
- Keep your saturated fat intake to a moderate level
- Choose healthier fats
- Avoid sweet drinks by sticking to simple water, tea and coffee
Weight loss has been shown to help reverse the effects of insulin resistance and tip glucose levels back into normal range. Dietary factors play a big role here because, while exercise is important for weight loss, what you are consuming is what ends up as the fat deposits on your body.
Stress can have an affect on your insulin levels; those with diabetes will notice an increase in their blood sugar levels during moments of mental stress and tension. Physical stress during sickness can also impact sugar levels. Stressful mindsets often find us not eating well, either missing meals or eating junk food – both of which have negative effects on sugar levels. While being unwell is something not in our control, maintaining a healthy mindset is also another aspect we should try to control. This is obviously hard as life comes with trials however here are some simple tips to try to implement with stress control:
- Go for walk and physically walk away from situations that are heated and stressful. Give yourself the headspace to think
- Keep a journal – sometimes we can not change the situation we are in but letting our thoughts you are contemplating can help you find clarity
- Speak to someone
- Pray and contemplate life
Always seek medical advice if you are worried about diabetes, plan to change your diet or any other lifestyle factor.