Diabetes: Are You at Risk?

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What exactly is diabetes?
Simply put, people with diabetes have too much sugar in their bloodstream. When we eat, our bodies break down carbohydrates into glucose and absorb it for energy. The hormone insulin, which the pancreas produces, helps the process occur. But diabetes interferes, either hindering the release of insulin or the body's response to it.

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Are you at risk?
Answering yes to any of these questions could mean you're more susceptible to developing type 2 diabetes.

  • Are you overweight?
  • Are you older than 45?
  • Are you African-American, Asian-American, Hispanic or Native American?
  • Do you have a first-degree relative with type 2 diabetes?
  • Do you or did you have gestational diabetes while pregnant?

Type 1: Usually develops when the patient is a child or adolescent. The pancreas doesn't create enough insulin.

Type 2: By far the most common form, affecting 90 to 95 percent of people with the disease. Cells become resistant to insulin, or the pancreas doesn't produce enough.

Gestational diabetes: Affects pregnant women only and usually goes away after they give birth.

In every type, the excess glucose can lead in the short term to thirst, fatigue and blurred vision and in the long term to more serious problems with the heart, eyes, kidneys, nerves and other pats of the body.

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You can stop prediabetes from getting worse
If you're among the 79 million Americans who have prediabetes (a blood glucose level that is above normal but not quite diabetes), good news: In a recent study, participants with prediabetes who brought their glucose level down to normal through lifestyle changes such as improved diet and exercise were 59 percent less likely to progress to diabetes.

Your Exercise Rx
Managing diabetes isn't simply about balancing your diet and medications. Fitness is important, too. Here's what you need to know. (Be sure to talk with your doctor before starting any workout program.)

  • How much movement is good: The American Diabetes Association recommends taht people with the disease aim for at least 150 minutes of moderately intense exercise per week-or 30 minutes per day, 5 days a week. That's actually the same amount recommended for the general public; the differences lie in what types are best. If you haven't been active, you should ease into it, such as starting with 10 minutes per day.
  • Types of exercise that are safe to try: Brisk walking, biking and swimming, or household chores such as gardening and general cleaning
  • The caveat: It's important to discuss any routine with your doctor before getting started. if you have diabetes complications such as high blood pressure or blood-vessel or eye problems, lifting heavy weights can exacerbate them. There are also a few dos and don'ts depending on the type of treatment you're undergoing. For people who take insulin or other diabetes meds, there is a risk that glucose levels will drop too much during exercise. If you're using such drugs, a general guideline is to check your blood sugar 30 minutes before exercising and then again right before exercising-but ask your doctor when is the best time for you to test. Also, people whose glucose is higher than 250 should be especially cautious: Your system might lack the insulin it needs to control your blood sugar. But even if the amount of exercise you do is limited, don't let that discourage you. Ultimately, the benefits of exercise are too great to pass up.

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Photo courtesy Alex E. Proimos