Diabetes is affecting people at younger and younger ages, and the rates of onset of the disease have grown enormously. The good side of the equation – diabetes is very preventable. By engaging in exercise and staying active, keeping weight under control, and choosing a lifestyle of healthy eating, people can prevent most cases of this disease. The elements of diabetes will first be presented, followed by using exercise and healthy eating to prevent the onset of diabetes.
The Nature of Diabetes
The actual name for the disease is diabetes mellitus, and it is a group of disease that is defined by high blood glucose levels. These elevated levels result from defects in the body’s ability to produce or utilize insulin. 2 There are several types of the disease.
Type 1, which was previously called juvenile diabetes, typically manifests in childhood. In this version, the body does not produce insulin, a hormone needed to convert sugar, starches and other foods into energy. This form only affects 5% of the people who have diabetes.
Type 2, the most common form of diabetes, results in the body either not producing sufficient insulin, or the cells in the body ignoring that insulin. This form typically is called adult onset diabetes, and is more likely to affect African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans and Asian Americans, as well as the aged population.
A very powerful tool to assess personal risk for diabetes, as well as heart disease and stroke, is offered by the American Diabetes Association. It is a tool that allows not only risk assessment, but allows someone to see how simple lifestyle changes can lower their risk. That assessment tool is found at: My Health Advisor.
The Symptoms of Diabetes
The symptoms of diabetes can seem harmless, and sometimes that means the disease may go undiagnosed. However, the early detection of symptoms and subsequent treatment can decrease the chances of complications from the disease. The symptoms are:
Type 1 Diabetes
- Frequent urination
- Unusual thirst
- Extreme hunger
- Unusual weight Loss
- Extreme Fatigue and irritability
Type 2 Diabetes
- Any of the Type 1 symptoms
- Frequent infections
- Blurred vision
- Cuts/bruises that are slow to heal
- Tingling/numbness in the hands/feet
- Recurring skin, gum, or bladder infections
Before the onset of actual diabetes, a person might have blood glucose levels higher than normal, but not high enough to be called Type 2 diabetes. Sometimes the symptoms develop so gradually that they are often not recognized. If the risk assessment shows a potential for onset of the disease, if the person is age 45 or older, and if overweight, it is recommended that the family doctor test for prediabetes. Other factors may contribute to the need for testing, such as high blood pressure, a low HDL cholesterol count, or a family history of diabetes. There are 3 different tests that doctors can use to determine if a prediabetic condition exists. Being prediabetic does not ensure the automatic development of Type 2 diabetes. If the doctor recommends it, get tested every 3 years, and make lifestyle changes with respect to body weight, physical activity and nutrition. Those components will be discussed below.
Myths About Diabetes
There are a number of myths or preconceptions about diabetes.
- Many believe that diabetes is caused by eating too much sugar. In Type 1 diabetes, the body completely stops producing insulin, and the exact causes of this are not known. Environmental factors and genetics play a role, but eating too many sweets is not the cause.
- Taking insulin means the person has failed to treat the disease. This is not true – since in Type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce what is needed, taking insulin is the only treatment for the disease.
- It’s not possible to lead an active lifestyle if someone has diabetes. Many studies have shown the positive impact of regular physical activity on lowering glucose. Being physically active with diabetes is not only possible, but definitely encouraged.
- It is painful to inject insulin. This is not true – the injections do not need to hurt, if administered properly as recommended by medical professionals. Use that procedure and the experience is practically painless and minimally intrusive.
Contributing Factors to Diabetes
- Obesity – A number of studies indicate that a the risk of diabetes can be greatly reduced by losing even a modest amount of weight. When participants in those studies were able to keep their blood glucose in a normal range, it significantly indicated a reduction of risk among those with prediabetes in developing diabetes. Since obesity is such an important factor in determining predisposition for developing diabetes, and is becoming an increasing problem in the United States, a number of initiatives are being promoted to improve health through increased physical activity.
- Poor nutrition – In the case of someone who already has diabetes, poor food choices make the condition much worse. For those with prediabetic conditions, the foods a person eats will strongly impact the potential for getting diabetes in the future. Type 2 diabetes is commonly considered a lifestyle condition. Eating foods high in fat which cause weight gain can accelerate risk; this includes fast foods, processed foods and packaged junk food. See below for a discussion of proper nutrition to reduce risk.
Prevention Through Exercise
Though there are factors which contribute to the possible risk for developing diabetes, there are a number of ways to reduce that risk. One of the most prominent is weight loss through exercise. A number of research studies have confirmed this connection, and suggest that moderate weight loss and exercise can prevent or delay the onset of Type 2 diabetes. One federally funded study of a large population of people at high risk for diabetes, found that losing a small amount of weight – 5 to 7 percent of body weight, can significantly reduce the potential for diabetes. The study recommended 30 minutes of physical activity, 5 days a week, accompanied by healthier eating, to accomplish this risk reduction.
The benefits of physical activity are numerous. Exercise can lower blood pressure, allowing the heart to work less – pumping stronger and more slowly. It can make the body more sensitive to naturally produced insulin, as well as burning glucose. Activity can also raise the good cholesterol level (HDL) and lower the levels of bad cholesterol (LDL). As well, the need for insulin or diabetes pills is lessened.
Of course, one of the biggest benefits of activity and exercise is weight reduction. That leads to lower risk of heart attack or stroke. As well, it allows more energy, improves sleep, and reduces stress. With all of these benefits to exercise, accompanied by the reduction in risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, spending 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week on exercise is a great investment.
What Kind of Exercise, and What Benefit?
There are three components of a well rounded physical activity routine:
- Aerobic exercise. This is the best place to get that valuable 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week that the studies recommend. The whole point of aerobics is to raise the heart rate, work muscles, and increase the breathing. Walking, dancing, swimming or water aerobics, tennis, or riding a bicycle all are great examples of aerobic exercise.
- Strength training. Performed 2 to 3 times a week, weight workouts can help build strong bones and muscles, and contribute to overall health. A weight training class, home weight workout or calisthenics can all accomplish the strengthening function.
- Flexibility exercises. Stretching helps keep the joints flexible, and reduce the possibilities for injury, especially during aerobic workouts. Yoga or Pilates are wonderful flexibility options.
Benefits of Golf In Preventing Diabetes
The harder a person works during exercise, the less time it takes to burn calories. It’s not just the exercise that is performed, it’s how hard – or how long – someone works at it, which can determine the benefit gained from a workout. Since an 18 hole round of golf takes an average of 4 hours, just one round can exceed the 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week minimum suggested for activity. Playing more often only increases the benefit. If a person plays 3 to 4 rounds of 18 holes per week, they reap enormous health benefits from the aerobic workout.
To cart or walk? Playing golf using a powered cart is considered a light-intensity workout. Every 30 minutes will burn 105 calories, so a 4 hour golf round will burn approximately 840 calories which is solid calorie burn for a fun day of exercise and golfing. If the golfer decides to walk the round, pulling or carrying their clubs, it is considered a moderate-intensity workout, and the calorie burn is even more pronounced. Every 30 minutes the golfer will burn between 105 and 210 calories, so a 4 hour round will burn 840 to 1,680 calories.
For those people who don’t want to run on a treadmill at the gym, golf provides a wonderful alternative – be out in nature, enjoying the benefits of exercise, while at the same time reducing the risk of developing diabetes.
Prevention Through Healthy Eating
Doesn’t it seem at times that the news about food and healthy eating changes a lot? It can be confusing to figure out how to develop a healthy food plan. Fortunately, some of the basic concepts have remained the same over time:
- Include lots of fruits and vegetables in the menu.
- Non-starchy vegetables are preferred – spinach, carrots, broccoli or green beans are solid choices.
- Whole grain. It is preferred to eat whole grain foods over processed grain products. Brown rice or whole wheat spaghetti are two good choices.
- Dried beans, like kidney or pinto beans, are good options.
- Have fish. 2 to 3 times a week, include fish with the meal.
- Make the meat lean. Meats that end in “loin” are typically the more lean variety.
- Watch the meal liquids. Unsweetened tea, water or coffee is preferred. Try to avoid regular soda, fruit punch, sweet tea and sweetened drinks.
- Cut back on snacks. Avoid snack foods and desserts like chips, cookies, cakes and regular ice cream, all of which will elevate the blood glucose level.
- Monitor portions. Even if someone is eating healthy, but eats too much, it defeats the purpose of trying to lose weight, so watch the portions
Although the onset of diabetes is happening at younger ages, and the rates of onset of the disease are increasing, there’s great news – diabetes is a disease which is highly preventable. There are plenty of resources to help monitor those factors that will reduce risk, and allow for a healthy life free of diabetes. By engaging in exercise such as golf to avoid weight gain and keep weight under control, and choosing a healthy eating lifestyle, it is possible to prevent or greatly delay the risk of developing diabetes.