It’s the time of year when people start considering what they would like to do differently to live a healthier, happier life in the New Year. To best align your goals with your health needs, make sure you know your blood glucose levels. Prediabetes is prevalent among Americans, affecting approximately 86 million adults – nearly a third of the total U.S. adult population. Something as simple as knowing your blood sugar levels can help you make small lifestyle changes that can prevent prediabetes from progressing into diabetes.
Prediabetes means that your blood sugar is higher than normal, but not high enough to be full-blown diabetes. This indicates that your body is beginning to have trouble producing or using insulin. If lifestyle changes are not made, you can progress into Type 2 diabetes.
The symptoms that accompany prediabetes are usually shrugged off as being sleepy, dehydrated or having food cravings or a sweet tooth. Most people don’t realize they have prediabetes.
Researchers are not exactly sure why, but many risk factors are linked to your insulin process going awry, including:
- Being overweight
- Lack of physical activity
- Having a family history of diabetes
- Age (increased risk over 45)
- Race/ethnicity (increased risk if African-American, Hispanic, Native American or Asian)
Other risk factors include women who had gestational diabetes while pregnant. This makes you more likely to develop prediabetes. Also, women who have polycystic ovary syndrome are at increased risk due to insulin resistance.
If you are overweight and have one of the above risk factors, your doctor may want to test your blood for prediabetes. And if you are over age 45 with no other risk factors, your doctor may still want to test your blood glucose levels since age is one of the major contributing factors to developing diabetes.
When you look at the list of risk factors, you really only have control over two things: weight and physical activity. By losing even a little bit of weight, you reduce your risk. This is achieved by eating healthier and introducing physical activity into your day. Find ways to achieve these goals that are enjoyable and therefore sustainable. Being active does not mean you need to go to the gym. Take daily walks, ride a bike or swim. Find something you enjoy and make a habit of it.
When it comes to diet, it’s not only about eating healthier but eating the right foods that control your blood glucose level. There are many cookbooks that focus on a healthy diet for those with prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes that can help give you ideas on what to eat. The important thing is to focus on eating healthy carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans), and eating more fiber-rich foods (beans, vegetables, fruits and nuts). These will help to stabilize your blood glucose level.
By monitoring your blood glucose level and taking appropriate preventative actions, you and your doctor can work together to reduce your chances of progressing into Type 2 diabetes.
Dr. Virgil Dawson is a board-certified family medicine physician, focused on helping patients live healthily through preventive medicine and management of acute or chronic conditions.