TMH Living Well: Learning about diabetes — prevent disease by eating well, exercising

What better time to talk about diabetes than Diabetes Awareness Month? If you have a family history of diabetes, or you struggle with maintaining a healthy weight, read on to learn the basics about diabetes — and most importantly, how you can prevent it.

According to the American Diabetes Association, nearly 26 million Americans have Type 2 diabetes, with the number growing each year. Left untreated, diabetes can cause eye disease and damage to the nerves, liver and heart. The good news is that many people can take control of their diabetes simply by improving their lifestyle habits.

Diabetes occurs when your body can’t regulate blood sugar levels properly. The hormone insulin, created by the pancreas, helps convert sugar to energy. With diabetes, your body either stops making insulin or no longer can use insulin efficiently.

“Common medical treatments for diabetes are oral medication and insulin shots, yet lifestyle changes — namely losing weight, exercising and eating well — can reverse the need for insulin or medications,” says Amy Knights, RN, CDE, WCC, Diabetes/Wellness/Wound coordinator with The Memorial Hospital Medical Clinic.

Do you suspect you have diabetes? Common signs of diabetes include:

• Urinating often, waking to urinate

• Very thirsty

• Very hungry

• Overly tired

• Irritable

• Unexplained weight loss

• Blurry vision

People often confuse the symptoms of diabetes with general aging, such as frequent urination. If you have any of these symptoms, talk with your doctor.

“Research shows that being overweight and sedentary causes Type 2 diabetes,” Knights said.

When you are overweight or obese, your body has a hard time producing enough insulin. That’s because the larger the body, the more food it requires and consequently, the more insulin it requires. Think of the pancreas as a machine. If you run it all the time, chances are it will burn out or malfunction. That’s essentially what happens with diabetes.

“Studies show that people who lose weight can go off insulin and use diet and exercise to control their diabetes instead. Even losing 10 pounds if you are overweight can make a difference,” Knights added.

Exercise is another key component to controlling diabetes naturally. Exercise helps the body move sugar to where it's supposed to go, into the cells versus remaining in the blood.

“Exercise helps your body regulate sugar, or glucose, by burning up more sugar which means it doesn’t have to produce as much insulin to regulate it,” Knights said.

What’s great about exercise is that it helps independently from weight loss. Yes, getting to an ideal body weight is important, but even if you are overweight exercising regularly can help you control your blood sugar levels — something that is good for diabetics and non-diabetics alike. Maintaining healthy blood sugar regulation helps you avoid diabetes in the future.

“When you exercise, you get the benefit of glucose regulation for up to 24 hours. If you are diabetic, exercise when your blood sugar traditionally reads somewhat high, say mid-morning, for the most effect,” Knights added.

Yet she warns that no two diabetics are alike, and that the effects of diet and exercise can be limited if the pancreas has been damaged by long-term diabetes.

“While it’s best to exercise five to six times a week, don’t let that stop you. Just do something to get started. Take small steps like walking around the block, and as you can add more to accomplish your goal. I tell people, ‘This is your life. You have to decide how to work through this and make it work for you,’” Knights concluded.

For more, visit the Community Page on the TMH website (www.thememorialhospital.com) and take a free risk assessment to learn if you are at risk for diabetes or pre-diabetes. Watch for our article next week on eating well to prevent and control diabetes.

This weekly article with tips on living well is sponsored by The Memorial Hospital at Craig – improving the quality of life for the communities we serve through patient-centered healthcare and service excellence.

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