The increasing prevalence of diabetes in Australia calls for a conversation on how we can modify our lifestyles to avoid this debilitating disease. While type 2 diabetes is not contagious, it is rapidly spreading among adults and even affecting teenagers and children at alarming rates.
In the United States, there are nearly 30 million people living with diabetes, and shockingly, about a quarter of them are unaware of their condition. In Australia, there are over 1.2 million reported cases, accounting for almost 5% of the total population. This poses a significant burden on healthcare systems, costing billions of dollars in medical expenses and reduced productivity annually. If this trend continues, it is projected that the global number of people living with diabetes could reach nearly 500 million by 2030.
In Australia, diabetes was responsible for approximately 19,300 deaths in 2021, making up 11.2% of all deaths and ranking among the top 10 leading causes of death in the country. The age-standardised mortality rates for diabetes, considering both underlying and associated causes, showed a 3.7% increase from 2020 to 2021. Among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, there were 833 deaths, and males have a 1.7 times higher likelihood of dying from diabetes compared to females. These statistics emphasise the significant impact of diabetes in Australia, underscoring the urgent need for effective prevention, management, and support for individuals affected by the condition.
Diabetes is a serious disease that disrupts the body's production of insulin, the hormone responsible for regulating blood sugar levels. Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to various health complications, including blindness, cardiovascular disease, and kidney failure. It is the leading cause of kidney failure and blindness among American adults and is responsible for over 70,000 deaths per year. In fact, diabetes ranks as the seventh leading cause of death in the United States. However, diabetes exercise treatments, with the guidance of an exercise physiologist, have proven highly successful in controlling the disease.
While diabetes causes thousands of deaths annually and puts many individuals at risk, the positive aspect is that it is often preventable. Approximately 9 in 10 cases of type 2 diabetes can be prevented by identifying a condition called prediabetes early on and making simple lifestyle changes. Ideally, individuals should proactively manage their health even before reaching the prediabetes stage.
Prediabetes is a condition that precedes the development of diabetes, characterised by elevated blood sugar levels that are not yet high enough for a diabetes diagnosis. However, it is estimated that a significant percentage of individuals with prediabetes will progress to diabetes within a decade. Alarmingly, nearly a quarter of Americans are estimated to be affected by prediabetes, yet a low number of these individuals are even aware of their condition. Among those who are aware, less than half take action to reduce their risk through lifestyle changes such as improving their diet, losing weight, or increasing physical activity. It is crucial to be vigilant for symptoms if you fall into this category.
While certain risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes, such as genetics and age, cannot be controlled, there are still numerous ways to lower your risk. Simple lifestyle modifications, such as increasing physical activity, reducing sedentary behaviour, quitting smoking, and adopting a healthier diet with less sugar, can significantly reduce the likelihood of developing diabetes. By implementing these habits, you can effectively reverse prediabetes and avoid the serious and potentially life-threatening consequences associated with the disease. To assist you in this journey, we have compiled an easy-to-follow list of habits that can help you prevent type 2 diabetes and regain control over your health.
Evaluate Your Risk
Screening for prediabetes and assessing your risk of developing diabetes is crucial because prediabetes often goes unnoticed due to the absence of symptoms. It is essential to evaluate your risk by considering various factors such as family history, racial or ethnic background, age, and history of gestational diabetes. Each of these factors independently contributes to an increased risk of developing diabetes. By identifying and understanding these risk factors, you can take proactive steps to prevent the onset of diabetes and maintain your health.
To assess your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, you can consider taking a test such as the Diabetes Australia Risk Assessor. The higher your score on the test, the higher your risk level. A score of 12 or more indicates a high risk, which may make you eligible for the Life! lifestyle modification program designed to reduce your risk.
It is important to note that people with a family history of diabetes, especially those with a blood relative who has the disease, are at an increased risk of developing diabetes themselves. Creating a family history tree that includes the medical history of your parents and grandparents, specifically noting instances of diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, or heart attack, can help in assessing your own risk.
Furthermore, considering racial and ethnic background is crucial when evaluating family history and diabetes risk. Individuals of African-American, Asian-American, Latino/Hispanic-American, Native American, or Pacific Islander heritage face a higher risk of developing diabetes. This highlights the importance of understanding the influence of genetic factors and the potential impact of ethnicity on diabetes susceptibility.
By incorporating these factors into your risk assessment, you can gain a more comprehensive understanding of your individual risk profile and take proactive steps towards diabetes prevention and management.
Age and Lifestyle
Both your age and personal history play significant roles as risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes. While it is concerning that an increasing number of children and teenagers are being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, older individuals still face a greater risk. Typically, type 2 diabetes affects adults in middle age or older, often after the age of 45. Additionally, if you have a history of gestational diabetes during pregnancy, it also increases your risk.
Unfortunately age and family history cannot be changed or modified to reduce the risk. However, when combined with various dietary and lifestyle choices, these risk factors can contribute to the perfect storm for developing type 2 diabetes.
In addition to these factors, there are several other measures you can take to manage your health and lower your risk of prediabetes and type 2 diabetes, as outlined below.
Change Your Lifestyle
There are important lifestyle choices that you can make to avoid developing diabetes, like losing weight (and keeping it off), eating well and exercising.
Lose Weight, And Keep It Off
People who are overweight or obese are at a heightened risk of developing type 2 diabetes due to the presence of excess body fat, particularly around the abdomen, which increases the body's resistance to insulin. Consequently, weight loss plays a crucial role in diabetes prevention. The good news is that you don't need to shed a substantial amount of weight to significantly lower your risk.
Many experts suggest aiming to lose 5 to 10 percent of your current body weight, can already have a substantial impact on delaying or preventing diabetes. For instance, if you weigh 90 kilograms, losing just 4.5 to 9 kilograms can greatly reduce your risk. Equally important is the maintenance of this weight loss to ensure long-term benefits and prevent weight regain.
Get Some Exercise
Engaging in regular exercise offers numerous health benefits, extending far beyond diabetes prevention. You don't have to be an athlete to lower your risk of diabetes – even moderate exercise can have a significant impact by reducing blood glucose levels, improving cholesterol and blood pressure, and managing mood by alleviating symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Exercise effectively reduces the risk of diabetes, independent of weight loss. Countless studies have demonstrated the strong correlation between exercise and a decreased likelihood of developing diabetes. For instance, a study conducted in Finland revealed that individuals who engaged in 35 minutes of exercise per day, or 4 hours per week, reduced their risk of diabetes by up to 80 percent, irrespective of their weight maintenance. Every effort counts when it comes to exercise: even engaging in physical activity more than once a week resulted in a 30 percent risk reduction, as revealed by the Nurses' Health Study.
Embarking on a journey of exercise can be as simple as dedicating 30 minutes a day, five days a week. If you are currently leading a sedentary lifestyle, consult with your doctor to determine suitable exercises for your needs. You can start gradually and progressively work towards your goals. Remember, even a thirty-minute walk qualifies as exercise, and incorporating this manageable routine into your daily schedule is an excellent way to initiate positive change.
Be a Quitter
Everyone knows that smoking is bad for you, but did you know that smoking raises your risk of diabetes? Smokers are actually twice as likely to develop diabetes as non-smokers, so if you’re worried about getting diabetes, quitting smoking is a good place to start.
Nicotine, the addictive substance in cigarettes, raises blood sugar levels by heightening the body's resistance to insulin. For individuals with diabetes or prediabetes, this poses an additional challenge, exacerbating the already existing blood sugar imbalance. Furthermore, smoking harms the cardiovascular system, further amplifying the risk of heart disease and stroke. Considering that individuals with diabetes are already at a two to four times higher risk of dying from these conditions, it is imperative to avoid compounding this already significant health risk. Whether one chooses to quit smoking abruptly or gradually reduce the number of cigarettes smoked daily, taking the path towards smoking cessation significantly reduces the risk of developing diabetes.
What You Eat Matters
The food choices we make significantly contribute to our risk of developing diabetes. By being mindful of what we consume, we can take proactive steps to avoid this condition. Our diet plays a pivotal role in either increasing or reducing the likelihood of developing diabetes. Diets high in saturated fats, trans fats, sugar, salt, red meat, and processed foods contribute to higher risk levels.
To prevent diabetes, it is crucial to reduce daily calorie intake, which aids in weight loss. Incorporating ample amounts of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables into our meals, particularly those rich in fibre, is essential. Diversifying our food choices within these groups further enhances our defence against type 2 diabetes and reduces the risks of stroke and high blood pressure. Preparing meals using whole, fresh ingredients offers a great way to steer clear of processed foods that are often high in unhealthy fats and calories, enabling us to prioritize our health.
In addition, it is important to incorporate portion control and practice mindful eating techniques. These strategies play a significant role in maintaining a balanced diet and preventing excessive calorie intake, ultimately supporting the prevention of diabetes. By being mindful of portion sizes and paying attention to your body's hunger and fullness cues, you can make healthier choices and foster a more balanced relationship with food. These practices promote better overall nutrition and help in managing weight, which is beneficial for reducing the risk of diabetes.
Watch out for hidden sugar
Beware of hidden sugars present in various food products. Take note of ingredients ending in "ose," such as dextrose, fructose, sucrose, maltose, high fructose corn syrup, as well as molasses, malt syrup, and corn sweetener. The higher an ingredient is listed on the package's ingredient list by weight, the more sugar it contains, so exercise caution in your selections.
High fibre to lower your risk
To lower the risk of diabetes, prioritise high-fiber whole grains, such as oats, millet, amaranth, and quinoa. Avoid refined forms of corn, barley, and wheat, as they lack the health benefits found in whole alternatives and are less nutritious.
Eat your greens - with vinaigrette
Another interesting finding is that consuming approximately 2 tablespoons of vinegar before a high-carb meal can help individuals with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes maintain low blood sugar levels. This may be due to the acetic acid present in vinegar, which slows down carbohydrate digestion by inactivating enzymes responsible for starch breakdown. This effect is akin to the action of medications like Precose or Acarbose, specifically designed to lower blood sugar levels. Incorporating vinaigrette dressings in salads before meals can be a delicious and beneficial way to harness these advantages and potentially reduce the risk of diabetes.
Lower your alcohol intake to lower your risk
Reducing alcohol intake is crucial in mitigating the risk of diabetes, as excessive consumption can lead to high blood pressure, weight gain, and various physical and psychological health issues. Limiting alcohol intake to a maximum of one or two drinks per day promotes overall health and aids in avoiding diabetes.
Sleep and Stress Reduction
In addition to maintaining a balanced diet and engaging in regular physical activity, getting enough sleep and effectively managing stress are crucial factors in preventing diabetes.
Adequate sleep is essential for overall health, including metabolic health and glucose regulation. Research suggests that lack of sleep or poor quality sleep may increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night to support optimal health and reduce the risk of diabetes.
Additionally, chronic stress can have a negative impact on your body's ability to regulate blood sugar levels. When stressed, the body releases stress hormones like cortisol, which can lead to elevated blood sugar levels and increased insulin resistance. Finding effective ways to manage stress is essential in diabetes prevention.
Implementing stress reduction techniques such as mindfulness meditation, deep breathing exercises, yoga, or engaging in hobbies or activities that bring joy and relaxation can help lower stress levels and promote overall well-being.
It is important to prioritise self-care and make time for activities that promote relaxation and stress reduction. Creating a consistent sleep routine, setting boundaries, and finding healthy outlets to cope with stress can significantly contribute to preventing diabetes and improving overall health.
Get your checkups
Whatever you do, make sure you see your doctor regularly for checkups, especially when you get older. Regular checkups allow your doctor to monitor important health markers such as blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and cholesterol. They can provide guidance and support as you personalise your diet and lifestyle to prevent diabetes.
Whether you already have prediabetes or are at high risk of developing diabetes, making a few lifestyle changes can significantly reduce your chances of developing the disease. Visiting your doctor for a comprehensive evaluation of your risk factors, including family history, is a great starting point. Together with your healthcare provider, you can make gradual adjustments in the right direction tailored to your specific needs. This may involve weight loss, blood sugar management, smoking cessation, dietary modifications, and alcohol consumption reduction. Remember, type 2 diabetes is a preventable condition, and taking proactive steps based on your risk factors will help you avoid its onset.
- Strive for a Diabetes-Free Life! -
Embrace a proactive approach to maintain good health and prevent diabetes. Treat your body with kindness, and it will respond with improved well-being. If you require assistance in managing your prediabetes, consider reaching out to the team at Full Circle Wellness. Book an appointment with an exercise physiologist and/or our Sunshine Coast dietitian to start your journey to better health. Together, you can develop personalised strategies to effectively overcome prediabetes and prevent the decline to a Type 2 diabetes diagnosis.
Stay diabetes free! Be kind to your body, and your body will respond with good health. If you need support or guidance we encourage you to make an appointment and speak with our team of allied health professionals.