Diabetes is Australia’s fastest growing chronic disease, estimated to affect 1.7 million Australians. In fact, 280 of us are diagnosed each day – that’s one every five minutes. And many people with type 2 diabetes remain undiagnosed.
The majority (85-90%) of people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes and the good news is that there are many things you can do to reduce your risk of developing this form of diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes begins with a condition called insulin resistance, where the body’s insulin (the hormone produced by our body to help take glucose from the food we eat into our muscles and cells to use for energy) is unable to work properly. Initially, the body makes extra insulin to overcome this resistance, so blood glucose levels remain normal.
But if nothing is done to reduce the extra workload on the body’s insulin producing cells, eventually they can’t keep up and blood glucose levels start to rise, resulting in impaired glucose tolerance (‘pre-diabetes’) and then type 2 diabetes.
While genetics plays a part (and we can’t change our genes) lifestyle changes play an even more important role in improving insulin sensitivity and reducing the risk of developing diabetes. In fact, two large studies found that people with pre-diabetes who took part in a lifestyle intervention program were able to reduce their risk of developing diabetes by almost 60%.
“lifestyle intervention was able to reduce the risk of developing diabetes by almost 60%”
Here are some of the changes you can make to reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes (or to help in managing it if you’ve already been diagnosed).
- Move more and sit less. Exercising regularly improves how insulin works in your body and reduces the risk of developing diabetes. Excess sitting time and television watching, on the other hand, have been linked with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes. If your work requires you to sit all day, make sure you take regular movement breaks – at least every 30 minutes.
- Eat a healthy diet. Diets high in saturated fat, red meat and processed meats have been linked with an increased risk of diabetes while diets high in fibre, wholegrains, legumes, nuts and vegetables are associated with a reduced risk. So, base your meals around plant foods (vegetables, legumes, wholegrains, fruit and nuts), eat more fish and legumes in place of red meat and avoid processed meats.
- Reduce your waist measurement. Carrying excess weight, particularly around the middle, increases the risk of diabetes. To lower your risk, women should aim for a waist measurement below 80cm for men below 94cm.
- If you smoke, quit. Smoking worsens insulin resistance and smokers have been shown to have more than a two-fold increase in risk of developing diabetes compared to non-smokers.
- Build good sleep habits. Lack of sleep has been shown to worsen insulin resistance and studies have shown that both sleep quality and quantity are related to diabetes risk. Sleeping less than 5-6 hours/night and more than 8-9 hours are both associated with an increased diabetes risk, as are difficulties getting to sleep and difficulties maintaining sleep.
For more information:
Check out your risk of developing diabetes with the AUSDRISK interactive tool – by answering ten questions based around the main risk factors for type 2 diabetes, you’ll be able to calculate your risk of developing the condition in the next 5 years. Visit the Diabetes Australia website