Diabetes is one of the most common health conditions in the United States, affecting more than 37 million adults. Because the body cannot adequately produce or detect insulin, blood glucose levels are elevated, which increases the risk of heart disease and kidney failure.

Unfortunately, many people don’t even know they have diabetes. And 96 million U.S. adults have prediabetes, meaning their glucose metabolism is already imbalanced.

Once diabetes sets in, it cannot be cured. However, it can be managed. But as the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. No matter your family history or genetics, healthy lifestyle choices can help prevent diabetes.

Maintain a healthy weight

Being overweight or obese is a major risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes. People with higher amounts of adipose (fatty tissue) are prone to insulin resistance. This is when the cells become less sensitive to insulin, which normally reduces blood sugar.

Excess fatty tissue also increases the risk of heart disease and osteoarthritis. As these conditions often contribute to weight gain, it becomes a vicious cycle of chronic health issues.

Maintaining a healthy weight can significantly reduce the likelihood of diabetes. Everyone is unique, but in general, a healthy weight is defined as a body-mass index (BMI) of less than 25. This may vary on an individual basis depending on their age, gender, and how muscular they are. That’s why the CDC suggests waist circumference as a potentially better risk indicator than BMI.

Eat a high-fiber, low-fat diet

Good nutrition ensures that your body gets what it needs to properly digest your food and fuel your movement. One problem with many food products today is their high levels of sugar and carbohydrates. These convert quickly to glucose, raising your blood sugar levels.

Instead, choose whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Be sure to consume enough fiber to support your gut health, which regulates your metabolism. And of course, cutting down on saturated and trans fats can help reduce the body’s adipose tissue.

Exercise regularly

As mentioned above, blood glucose stays elevated when cells lose sensitivity to insulin. However, your muscles can draw upon that glucose to convert to glycogen for energy. That’s why exercise is a great way to modulate your blood sugar levels, especially if you’re pre-diabetic or diabetic.

Regular physical activity can help improve insulin sensitivity, which reduces your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week.

Both aerobic and anaerobic workouts can help, but the latter is especially beneficial as it must use glycogen. So, make sure to include resistance training, such as lifting weights or doing pilates, into your exercise schedule.

Quit smoking and vaping

Nicotine makes cells less sensitive to insulin, which contributes to insulin resistance. So, smoking, vaping, and other tobacco use significantly raise the risk of diabetes — up to 40%.

Tobacco use also correlates with lower physical activity levels and a higher risk of heart disease. As discussed, these also contribute to diabetes.

Tip: The Community Home Project partners with the Suwannee River Area Health Education Center, which provides free smoking cessation assistance with expert-led sessions and nicotine replacement therapy to help you to develop your personal “quit plan.”

If you also drink alcohol, you may be at a higher risk of diabetes. Drinking alcohol in moderation may not increase the risk of developing diabetes, but excessive alcohol consumption can lead to weight gain — and therefore one’s likelihood of diabetes.

Get enough sleep

Your sleep quality affects all aspects of your health, from your energy levels and metabolism to your eating habits. Thus, getting good sleep can help you live a healthy lifestyle. After all, it’s hard to motivate yourself to work out if you’re tired.

Moreover, poor sleep can contribute to insulin resistance and therefore your risk of developing diabetes. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night, or however many hours allow you to wake feeling refreshed. Highly active people and athletes may need even more hours.

Need help with diabetes education and management?

Whether you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes or pre-diabetes, or you simply want to minimize your risk, a healthy lifestyle can make a huge difference.

The Marion County Hospital District supports community organizations that help Marion County residents make healthy choices. The Diabetes Empowerment Education Program, also known as DEEP, is a FREE education program to help people with pre-diabetes and diabetes gain a better understanding of diabetes self-care.

To learn more, contact Jessie Driggers of the Marion County Hospital District at (352) 622-3662.