One in 10 Americans has diabetes, and more than 88 million have prediabetes. With an often-irreversible diagnosis and lasting health implications, diabetes is a disease that can be prevented with the right strategies and support. This National Diabetes Month, experts from the UAB Department of Family and Community Medicine in the UAB Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine are sharing tips on how to prevent diabetes altogether.
Know your risk factors
Dr. Ksenia Blinnikova, assistant professor within the department, sees patients with diabetes management needs and specializes in weight management as part of her primary care practice. Blinnikova notes that one in three people in the United States has prediabetes, meaning that they have a higher than normal blood sugar level that is not quite high enough to be diagnosed as Type 2 diabetes. Prediabetes can be reversed before a diabetes diagnosis occurs.
“Lifestyle modification is the basis for blood sugar management and avoidance of a diabetes diagnosis,” she said. “Making small diet changes and introducing regular exercise can help delay the onset of diabetes or even reverse a patient’s prediabetic blood sugar range.”
Blinnikova recommends that patients with elevated blood sugar levels, family history of diabetes or a history of gestational diabetes talk with their primary care provider about their risk of developing diabetes.
Eat with diabetes prevention in mind
“Patients should understand the role of nutrition in preventing chronic diseases like diabetes,” said Caroline Cohen, Ph.D., R.D., an assistant professor in the department. “The types, amounts and timing of the foods you eat all play a critical role in how you feel and in your blood sugar management. You can work with a registered dietitian to gain a better understanding of how a balanced diet impacts your health and can improve your overall lifestyle.”
Patients at risk for developing diabetes should eat a diet high in fiber, limit sugary beverages, and choose poultry or fish over red or processed meats.
Find support through prevention programs and your primary care provider
Blinnikova encourages patients to seek out support groups and to talk with their primary care provider about diabetes prevention.
Cohen said interested patients can enroll in UAB’s Diabetes Prevention Program. The DPP provides education and resources to people who are interested in making lifestyle changes related to nutrition, exercise and behavioral health. Eligibility restrictions apply.
“Patients can get specific recommendations on dietary modification and prescriptions for exercise from primary care providers,” Blinnikova said. “Those conversations are a great starting point on a patient’s journey to healthier living.”
Maintain a healthy weight and exercise regularly
Cohen and Blinnikova encourage patients to maintain a healthy weight.
“Obesity increases the risk of developing diabetes,” Cohen said. “Research indicates that those with obesity can significantly reduce the risk of having Type 2 diabetes by losing just 7 to 10 percent of their current weight.”
Blinnikova talks with her patients about integrating regular exercise into their daily lives to maintain a healthy body-mass index, even if they need to start small.
“For people who have not been exercising, I recommend starting with five to 10 minutes a day and slowly increase intensity and duration. Choose what you enjoy doing, whether that’s walking, jogging, biking or other activities, and just keep moving. Every minute counts.”
The UAB Department of Family and Community Medicine employs a comprehensive approach to healthy lifestyles. With an on-site dietitian, behavioral health specialist, sports medicine providers and weight-loss specialists, the department’s clinics are available to work as a team to encourage patients and help them avoid a diabetes diagnosis and reach healthy living goals. For patients wanting to make lifestyle changes, the Exercise is Medicine program is a great first step toward reaching health goals. EIM gives patients a discounted membership to a local YMCA and provides specific recommendations for starting an exercise plan that is accessible and effective for them.
Learn more about UAB Medicine’s weight loss programs here.
This story originally appeared on the UAB News website.