Want to Lower Your Risk of Diabetes? It’s Possible with a Few Lifestyle Adjustments

Healthy Living

June 1, 2019

Among Americans aged 65 and older, type 2 diabetes is an all too common condition. At least one-quarter of American seniors have diabetes – that’s one out of every four people. If you’re concerned about being diagnosed with this disease, it’s time to take steps toward prevention, especially if your genetic makeup is stacked against you. With a few lifestyle and medical changes, you can improve your health and reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Maintain a Healthy Weight

You’ve probably heard it before, but dropping excess pounds is one of the best things that you can do to lower your chance of getting diabetes. Studies have demonstrated that you can reduce your diabetes risk by losing 5 to 7 percent of your body weight. For example, if you weigh 250 pounds, just a 13- to 18-pound drop would make a difference for you.

Keep in mind that the goal is not just to lose the weight but also to keep it off and train yourself to make better nutritional choices. Regaining the pounds will once again raise your diabetes risk.

Participating in a Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) can help you achieve a healthy weight and reduce your risk of developing the disease. This educational program encourages participants to meet together for learning and support, and it’s been shown to be particularly effective at diabetes prevention in seniors. Ask your doctor about local resources for this program.

Be Smart About Food and Drinks

Healthy eating habits can help you maintain a reasonable weight and stabilize your blood sugar levels. A diet that’s geared toward diabetes prevention is one that’s high in fiber but low in fat, calories, sugar and processed carbohydrates.

In addition to watching what kind of food you eat, you should also watch how much of it you eat. By limiting your portion sizes, you’ll consume fewer calories. Portion sizes are a common problem in America, where we’ve been trained to expect a lot of food, especially at restaurants. It won’t be easy downsizing to smaller portions, but your body will adjust over time – and so will your expectations.

Drinks are a common source of excess calories and sugar. It’s important to stay hydrated, but not with sugary sodas or juices. Beverages made with artificial sweeteners aren’t a better choice since these tend to reinforce your sugar cravings. Instead, increase your water intake. Not only is water a calorie-free way to get the hydration that your body needs, but drinking plenty of water can also help your body maintain a healthy blood sugar level. If you’re not a fan of plain water, choose something like decaf iced tea or water with cucumbers, lemon or limes for a bit of flavor.

Stay Active

Diet and physical activity go hand in hand to help you manage your weight. Experts recommend that you get at least 30 minutes of exercise a day. You don’t necessarily have to do this every single day, but you should aim to be active at least five days a week.

You might find that the fitness activities that you enjoyed a decade ago are no longer as suitable for you, particularly if you haven’t exercised in a while. If that’s the case, don’t give up on the idea of being active. Instead, consider exploring new forms of exercise. Many seniors enjoy walking or swimming. Flexibility and stretching exercises, such as yoga or tai chi, can be good choices too. These kinds of activities are easier on your joints while still providing good movement.

If you’d like to work out with others, look for senior fitness classes in your area. Medicare Advantage plans often cover the cost of programs like Silver Sneakers, which are tailored to older adults. Just make sure to talk to your doctor before beginning a new exercise regimen. Your healthcare provider can help you choose the right activity for your ability level.

Stop Smoking

Smoking rates have declined nationwide, but if you’re among the holdouts, it’s time to ditch this habit for good. Research shows that smoking raises your risk of type 2 diabetes. People who smoke are at least 30 percent more likely to develop the disease than their nonsmoking peers.

Even if you’ve been a smoker for years, it’s never too late to quit. Each cigarette that you smoke increases your risk of developing diabetes. If you stop now, you can keep your smoking-related risk from continuing to rise.

Furthermore, if you do develop diabetes, smoking can complicate your treatment. Smokers have a harder time managing their insulin levels, and they’re at a greater risk of developing related diseases. If you become diabetic, your doctor will strongly urge you to stop smoking. It’s smarter to go ahead and quit now while doing so still has the power to reduce your diabetes risk.

Get Your Cholesterol in Check

High cholesterol can contribute to an increased chance of having diabetes. Fortunately, many of the things that you do to lower your diabetes risk, including losing weight and exercising, can also help reduce your cholesterol level.

You should have your cholesterol tested multiple times as you get older. If you haven’t had cholesterol problems before, once every five years might be sufficient. Your healthcare provider will probably recommend more frequent tests if you’ve had a history of high cholesterol or your family history shows increased risk.

Your doctor may want you to take a prescription medication to help lower your cholesterol, especially if diet and exercise alone don’t seem to be keeping your numbers in check. But if you can manage your cholesterol with diet and lifestyle, that’s one less pill to remember each day.

Consider Medication

If you have several diabetes risk factors, your doctor may encourage you to take the preventive drug metformin. In one study, people who took metformin dropped their diabetes risk by over 30 percent during the first three years of the study. After 15 years, they had delayed the onset of diabetes by an average of 18 percent.

However, it’s worth noting that the prescription was most effective for study participants between the ages of 25 and 44, which means it may not be as worthwhile for you if you’re older. Your doctor can provide insights as to whether this is the right course of action for you. If you do decide to go on metformin, remember that it will be most effective when paired with diet and lifestyle adjustments.

Stay in Touch with Your Doctor

Your doctor can be an excellent resource for diabetes prevention. If you have questions about diet, exercise or other ways to reduce your risk, be sure to talk to your healthcare provider – sooner rather than later.

You may want to ask your doctor about being tested for prediabetes. This is a blood glucose condition that can lead to full diabetes if left on its own. It affects at least 86 million Americans, many of whom are seniors. Fortunately, early detection allows you to make lifestyle adjustments that will lower your risk of moving from prediabetes to diabetes. There’s no cure for diabetes, so anything you can do to mitigate the risk is worth exploring.