November is Diabetes Awareness Month. Chances are, you know someone who is diabetic or who has pre-diabetes. Maybe that someone is you. According to the American Diabetes Association, 30 million Americans (9.4% of the population) have diabetes. Surprisingly, 1 out of 4 don't even know they have it! Many don't find out until they visit their health care provider for some other medical issue.
But the number of people who have developed diabetes is just the tip of the iceberg. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 84 million Americans have pre-diabetes, meaning their blood sugar is high, but not high enough to be classified as diabetes. This number equates to one-third of the American population. In other words, 1 out of every 3 Americans is pre-diabetic. Pre-diabetics are at high risk for developing diabetes within the following five years.
Both diabetics and pre-diabetics are at higher risk for heart disease and strokes. Diabetes carries with it additional risks: blindness, kidney failure, and foot ulcers leading to amputation of the toes, feet or legs. Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the US, and deaths due to diabetes may be under-reported.
The incidence of diabetes in American society has risen right along with skyrocketing obesity rates, a trend toward a sedentary lifestyle, and our society's love affair with unhealthy fast food. The CDC estimates that by 2025, 1 in 5 Americans will have diabetes.
But there is good news, and that is the point of Diabetes Awareness Month. Both diabetes and pre-diabetes respond to lifestyle changes. A very significant point is that small changes in lifestyle can make a big impact in preventing or managing diabetes.Research conducted by the National Institutes of Health found that participants with pre-diabetes who lost 5% to 7% of their body weight and exercised 150 minutes (2-1/2 hours) per week decreased their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by 58% (71% for people over 60 years old).
For people already living with diabetes, better treatments and medications are leading to longer and better quality lives. However, a person with diabetes must manage his or her lifestyle to prevent complications that can lead to death and permanent disability. Fortunately, a wealth of information is available to help everyone make healthy choices.
Following are some simple steps you can take now to take charge of your health:
Take the Risk Assessment for Pre-Diabetes. Find out if you are at risk for developing diabetes or pre-diabetes. People who have family members with diabetes or who are overweight with a body mass index greater than 25 are at risk.
If you are at risk, make an appointment with your health care provider for further evaluation and education.
If you are Pre-Diabetic:
Take a diabetes prevention class. Structured programs, like a CDC-recognized lifestyle change program, will provide group support and guided learning to instill healthy habits that will last a lifetime. In these programs, you will learn about nutrition, exercise, and stress management, and will participate actively in making healthy choices.
Ask your health care provider, a certified diabetes educator, or a registered nutritionist about changes you can make in your diet. If you are overweight, find a healthy diet plan that works for you, with a goal of losing 5% to 7% of your body weight.
Find ways to incorporate more exercise into your life. Adding low impact, moderate intensity exercises such as walking, biking, and swimming can have a big impact on your fitness and health.
If You Have Diabetes:
Whether you have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, controlling your blood sugar can reduce your risk of developing eye, kidney, and nerve disease. You can take steps now to learn to control your blood sugar.
Find a Diabetes Education Program in Your Area. Diabetes education programs will provide structured learning and group support to help you learn to manage your diabetes.
Learn about making healthy food choices. Some simple steps you can take:
- Reduce portion sizes
- Choose lean proteins such as turkey or chicken
- Add a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables to your diet
- Lower your carbohydrate intake
- Choose complex carbohydrates such as whole grain bread and wild rice over sugary treats and starchy vegetables like potatos
Exercise regularly. The CDC recommends moderate-intensity exercise for at least 30 minutes on 5 days or more of each week. Examples of moderate-intensity exercise include walking, biking, swimming, lawn mowing, and dancing. If you are not accustomed to exercise, start slowly, and gradually increase the intensity and duration.
See your health care provider regularly to monitor and manage your blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglycerides. Get a hemoglobin A1C test at least twice a year, a cholesterol test once a year, and your blood pressure measured at every doctor visit. Take your insulin or other medication as directed by your health care provider.
Take care of your feet. Always wear supportive footwear that fits you well, and never go barefoot, either indoors or outside. Check your feet regularly and notify your health care provider right away if you develop a blister or open wound on your foot. Trim your nails straight across and file gently. Never attempt to remove corns or calluses yourself. See a podiatrist annually for a foot exam. Remove your shoes at every visit with your family physician and ask that your feet be checked.
If you smoke, stop smoking.
Prepare financially. Even if you have good insurance, the out of pocket costs for diabetes care can be high. This article on the costs of diabetes provides a good overview, along with financial planning you can do now.
Share the message about Diabetes Awareness with your friends and family and encourage them to make healthy choices, too!