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How Seniors Can Prevent Diabetes

Nearly 12 million seniors have diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association.

That number amounts to 1 out of every 4 people age 65 and older. Diabetes is a chronic, long-term disease and comes in two forms: Type 1 and Type 2, the most common form of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes typically affects children and isn’t preventable, but proper diet and exercise can reduce your risk for Type 2 diabetes.

Unfortunately, millions of people in the U.S. are prediabetic and don’t even know it. If you have a family history or have risk factors like prediabetes, high cholesterol and blood pressure, being overweight or being inactive, then it’s important to take steps to get healthy.

November is Diabetes Awareness Month, so take the time today to learn more about diabetes prevention. Here’s what you should know.

Type 2 Diabetes Facts

When you have Type 2 diabetes, your body does not properly use insulin. Insulin helps process the food you eat and carry blood glucose (also known as blood sugar) from your blood to your cells, where it is used for energy. However, people who are diabetic have high levels of blood glucose, which may lead to low energy and serious health issues like stroke and heart disease.

Eating certain foods — like sugary sodas, desserts, white bread, fatty meats and even fruit juice — can cause your blood sugar to rise. For this reason, a healthy, balanced diet is one of the best ways to manage diabetes symptoms. Medications and insulin treatment, which involves regularly injecting this hormone into the body, are two other ways to treat this disease.

Diabetes Prevention

However, as the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Diabetes is long-term illness that know one should have to deal with. It’s also preventable. Lifestyle changes can greatly reduce your risk for Type 2 diabetes.

Being overweight is a significant risk factor for diabetes, but a diet filled with nutrients, whole grains and vegetables and low in fat and sugar can reduce your risk. High-fiber, complex carbohydrates — like beans, sweet potatoes, whole grains and green vegetables — should be a part of every meal. These carbohydrates are often called slow-release carbs because they take longer for the body to digest, keeping you fuller for longer.

Another thing to keep in mind: your plate should resemble colors of the rainbow. Healthy, nutritious food often has vibrant colors (think red for tomatoes or green for broccoli), so remember this rule to keep your diet balanced.

One beneficial side effect of healthy eating is weight loss. Studies show that losing even a small amount of weight, or about 5-7 percent of your body fat, can reduce your diabetes risk significantly. Regular physical activity is another way to stay healthy. The CDC launched a National Diabetes Prevention Program in 2012 that recommends 150 minutes (or about 2.5 hours) of physical activity every week. This doesn’t necessarily mean intense exercise, but rather walking, gardening and doing other activities that get you moving. Results so far have shown that these efforts reduced diabetes risk by 58 percent in 1,000 people participating in the program.

The key lesson here is that regular physical activity is important for diabetes prevention. For some seniors, it’s challenging to stay active, but if you have the capability to do it, incorporate regular physical activity into your week. Walking is a great, low-impact way to stay fit. Many seniors also find that water aerobics are fun and provide a good workout.

Diabetes often is called the silent killer because many people don’t know they have it. But this  disease is serious and can lead to complications that affect your long-term quality of life. If you are concerned about your risk for diabetes, making changes to your diet and increasing your physical activity will help you stay healthy. Talk to your doctor about the specific steps you can take to avoid diabetes and make a serious effort every day to follow that advice.

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