Avoiding the Big D: Simple steps to prevent diabetes

Phyllis Class RN, Executive Director, Allied Health Continuing Education

Phyllis Class, RN

By Phyllis Class, RN
Executive Director, Allied Health CE

Recently, I was sitting on the edge of the chair at my nurse practitioner’s office awaiting the results of my semiannual hemoglobin A1c. Would I be diagnosed with diabetes? Would I have to stick my finger to check my glucose and take pills, or worse, insulin injections? With a family history of Type 2 diabetes, hypertension and heart disease, it was not an idle threat. But I dodged the bullet once more with an A1c within normal limits. Not everyone is that lucky, and this month those people will be spotlighted as November is American Diabetes Month and Nov. 14 is World Diabetes Day.

First, the bad news: Some 26 million Americans have diabetes, according to the 2011 National Diabetes Fact Sheet. And how’s this for scary? An estimated 79 million people have prediabetes, or glucose levels that are higher than they should be but not high enough for a diabetes diagnosis. The price tag for diagnosed diabetes in the U.S. in 2012? A whopping $245 billion, according to the American Diabetes Association. Healthcare costs for someone with diabetes are an estimated 2.3 times that of someone who doesn’t have the disease.

Now, the good news: studies show that physical exercise and weight loss can prevent or delay prediabetes from progressing to diabetes. Aerobic exercise has been shown to reduce insulin resistance by getting more blood to muscles, which improves glucose uptake. A good place to start is a daily walk. I just started using MapMyWalk, a free smartphone app that tracks your route, mileage and calories burned.

Needless to say, diet is crucial in preventing prediabetes. In addition to the common sense fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and lean proteins, there is evidence that monounsaturated fats like olive oil help reduce insulin resistance. I just learned that sweet potatoes contain chromium, which also reduces insulin resistance.

Easier said than done? Avoiding the Big D has been a challenge for me. The last thing I feel like doing at the end of the day is putting on my sneakers and heading to the gym, but I do it anyway. I simply refuse to give in to genetics without a fight. Plus, I’ll admit it, I’m vain. I want to look good.

A little knowledge along the way has helped. Recently, I decided to take our newly minted obesity management course that offers 12 contact hours for nurses, dietitians, physicians, pharmacists, social workers and health educators. There’s just something about reading what obesity does to your body that is enough to make you run, not walk, to the gym.

What do you recommend to your patients to prevent diabetes? Let us know in the comments.

Continuing education resources:

Obesity management: A 911 call to American healthcare

A healthcare provider’s guide to diabetes care

New diabetes options: From lizards to laboratories

Exercise for health and fitness

The piece de resistance: Insulin resistance syndrome/metabolic syndrome

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