DIABETES: 10 Tips to Defeat Diabetes

April 06, 2010

DIABETES: 10 Tips to Defeat Diabetes
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, American Indian and Alaska Native adults are 2.3 times as likely as white adults to be diagnosed with diabetes. The disease is the fourth leading cause of death for American Indians and Alaska Natives, affecting about 16% of the population. Information about diabetes from Tanka friend Lifescript runs every other week in our blog, Walking the Way of Wellness.

One of the first things you notice about Kathy Smith? Her positive energy and a physique that exudes healthy living. She's instantly motivating.

So it's no surprise that the fitness icon has been inspiring millions of American women to exercise for more than two decades.

Now she's bringing her energy and healthy lifestyle message to a new cause: The fight against type 2 diabetes.

What called her to action? Watching a friend's father struggle with diabetes complications, she says.

"Diabetes is something we have to get a grip on," Smith said during an exclusive interview in her Southern California home. "This is a life-and-death situation -- not just about thighs or a tighter tummy."

Type 2 diabetes is one of the fastest-growing health problems in the country.

Nearly 24 million people have the disease, including 11.5 million women. Another 57 million Americans have pre-diabetes - higher than normal blood glucose levels that can damage your body. It's the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S.

But diabetes doesn't have to be a death sentence.

"This is a disease you can reverse with lifestyle changes, by incorporating movement into your life and following an eating plan," Smith says. And it's largely preventable in people with pre-diabetes, she points out.

With that goal in mind, she produced "Kathy Smith's Project: You! Type 2" with the American Diabetes Association (ADA). The multi-faceted package offers a mix-and-match nutrition plan and 12-week exercise program.

Emotional support is as important as good nutrition and fitness, she says.

"You have to have some support system in place - friends, family, others with diabetes. If you say you're going to tackle this on your own, you're almost doomed for failure."

Smith's top 10 tips to prevent or manage diabetes:

1. Switch to high-fiber foods.

Eat whole grains. Refined carbs with high glycemic loads - such as white bread and processed foods - increase diabetes risk.

Studies show that people who eat whole grains have a lower risk of developing the disease. Why? Fiber. It allows the body to digest food without the spike in blood sugar.

2. Write it down.

Keep track of the food you eat, how much you exercise and your weight loss.

"It's a useful tool where you can start to see patterns," Smith says.

3. You have to move.

Want to cut your diabetes risk by 35%? Just take a brisk hour-long walk daily, she says. Even after your hour is up, find ways to stay active throughout the day. Carry groceries from the car to the house in two trips instead of one, she suggests. Get extra exercise with a fun activity like a dance class.

Or take the dog out for a walk each evening. Kick it up a notch with a few bursts of speed walking during your lap around the neighborhood.

4. Transplant your trans fats.

Purge processed food and sweets from your pantry. Trans fats - anything containing partially hydrogenated oils - boost belly fat and increase heart disease and diabetes risk. Plus they're high in calories.

"Trans fat can also raise your cholesterol levels, which can raise heart disease risk," Smith says. Replenish your cupboards with foods containing polyunsaturated fats such as nuts, fish and soybean oil.

5. Make a plan.

Set a goal for each workout to maximize your exercise routine. When you know what you want to accomplish, you'll be able to set aside enough energy to follow through, whether it's a one-hour walk or three sets of tricep extensions.

Success will encourage you to challenge yourself more, especially as your blood sugar levels start to improve. "Losing just a little weight makes a huge difference," Smith says.

6. Pick your proteins.

A few simple swaps can do wonders for your diet. Cut back on red meat and go for more poultry, seafood and legumes, such as beans, lentils and nuts. All are good sources of protein, but leaner choices are lower in saturated fat, cholesterol and calories, which, in turn, can reduce your risk of heart disease and other diabetes complications.

"If you absolutely must have fast food, try a grilled chicken sandwich instead of a cheeseburger," she says.

7. Treat your feet.

Did you know that more than 60% of foot and leg amputations are diabetes-related? According to the ADA, foot problems usually occur when nerve damage (neuropathy) results in a loss of feeling in your feet.

Check your feet regularly for swelling and red spots and maintain foot health by keeping nails trimmed and wearing proper shoes.

Smith recommends comfortable, low-heeled styles that don't have rough edges that rub against your feet.

8. Butts out!

"Smoking and diabetes are double trouble," Smith says.

Both put you at risk for heart disease, nerve damage and kidney, foot and eye problems. Also, smoking raises blood sugar levels, says the ADA.

"Try the patch, try the gum, try cold turkey -- try something -- because your risk for all these diseases increases when you light up," she says. Talk to your doctor if you need help kicking the habit for good.

9. Lift weights.

Heart disease is a major concern for people with diabetes. But the risk of both chronic illnesses is lower when the body is lean, she says.

Experts suggest you lose 5-10% of your body weight and do 30 minutes of moderate physical activity a day, five times a week.

The American Heart Association recommends strength-training to get rid of visceral fat (the kind that surrounds internal organs and creates the pot belly), because it's the most dangerous for cardiovascular health.

10. You are what you drink.

High-fructose corn syrup in sodas and other beverages is bad news, especially for those at risk for diabetes. These drinks have loads of sugar and empty calories that leave you feeling unsatisfied. Swap your soda for water or unsweetened beverages.

Even fruit juice is high in sugar, so stick to the fruit itself. But if you take diabetes medication, keep juice or other fast-acting sugars handy in case your blood sugar dips too low.

More tips from Kathy Smith:

7 easy exercises
6 diabetic recipes

To follow LifeScript on Twitter: @LifeScript

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