Senior Diabetes Prevention: 7 Tips to Reduce Your Risk
Over 25% of seniors age 65 and older are living with diabetes, some not even knowing they have the disease. Having diabetes can lead to serious complications over time, including heart disease, kidney damage and vision loss – but in many cases, the damage is preventable.
Types of Diabetes
For National Diabetes Month, we’d like to highlight what seniors can do to prevent diabetes or lower their risk if they have it.
To start, we need to clarify that there are two main types of diabetes:
Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is the least common of the two types and it isn’t preventable. Typically appearing while someone’s still relatively young, Type 1 diabetes is neither curable or preventable, but it is manageable if you cultivate the right healthy habits – like being careful with their diet and taking insulin for the rest of their lives. In fact, today’s seniors are the first generation where a large number of people with Type 1 diabetes have been able to live into their senior years with minimal complications.
Type 2 Diabetes
The more common form of diabetes, Type 2 diabetes, is preventable. Getting it is largely related to lifestyle and it usually shows up a bit later in life, in people middle aged and older. Lifestyle changes can make a difference in preventing Type 2 diabetes before it occurs, as well as being able to reverse the effects of it after it’s been diagnosed.
What You Can Do to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes
One of the main goals of National Diabetes Month is to help people understand the lifestyle changes they can make proactively to avoid a diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes altogether. Prevention is always preferable to treatment.
Here are a number of steps you can take to reduce your risk and improve your general health at the same time.
- Watch what you eat.
You’ve been hearing it your whole life, but here’s one more reason to eat healthier. Type 2 diabetes is closely associated with diet. To avoid having to deal with diabetes, here are a few good dietary steps to take:
- Cut down on carbs – A diet too high in carbohydrates can increase your blood sugar levels, which causes your body to create more insulin, which contributes to the onset of Type 2 diabetes.
- Cut down on sugar – Like carbs, sugary foods can increase your blood sugar and the amount of insulin your body produces.
- Eat a high-fiber diet – Fiber is good for your gut health, meaning it improves your digestion. It can help decrease blood sugar and insulin production.
None of those suggestions are fun – once you start paying attention to your carb and sugar intake you’ll realize just how much they’re included in lots of foods you like. Even so, the effects of giving them up can go a long way to reducing your risk of diabetes and improving your health. And once you start trying out recipes high in fiber and low in sugar and carbs, you may be surprised by how many become new favorites.
- Watch how much you eat.
Here’s the other important dietary step: pay attention to your portion sizes. The size of meals typically served at restaurants is larger than is healthy, and many people in the U.S. have gotten into the habit of eating more at most of our meals than we really need at one time. Try using smaller dishes or portioning out a specific amount for each meal and stopping there.
You’re probably eating more than you really need to satiate your hunger anyway. For this tip, a big part of the battle is just being more thoughtful when you’re serving yourself at each meal.
A sedentary lifestyle is another big factor that contributes to Type 2 diabetes. If you spend your days mostly sitting in one place, then commit now to working more movement into your days. That can be as simple as starting to take daily walks, or you can try out senior-friendly exercises that your doctor approves. Whatever type of regular exercise is within your means, give it a try to reduce your risk and improve your overall health.
- Drink more water.
Most people just don’t drink enough water. Water helps you stay hydrated and drinking plenty of it can help improve how your body responds to blood sugar and insulin. That’s especially true if you combine your attempts to drink more water with our next diabetes prevention tip.
- Avoid soda and juice.
One of the reasons most people in the U.S. don’t drink enough water is because of how prevalent sodas and sugary juices are. When these types of drinks replace water for hydration, it can have serious effects on your health. People who drink more than two sugary beverages a day are 20% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes.
Try cutting sugary beverages out of your life completely. If you find that too challenging, at least cut down to one a day or less. When you get a craving for something sweet, get in the habit of reaching for a piece of fruit instead.
- Quit smoking.
Smoking contributes to a lot of health issues seniors are at risk of. An increased risk of Type 2 diabetes is just one more reason to quit the habit you already knew was a problem. Studies have linked smoking to a 44% increase in the risk of getting diabetes. And if you’re a heavy smoker – over 20 cigarettes a day – that goes up to a 61% increase. If you’re still smoking, this is a very good time to consider quitting for good.
- Get regular checkups.
One piece of good news about Type 2 diabetes is that it doesn’t usually sneak up on you. Doctors are often able to diagnose prediabetes – when someone’s on the path to Type 2 diabetes, but still has time to make changes to avoid getting there. And even before you reach the point of prediabetes, there’s a chance that regular checkups will offer warning signs of high blood pressure or heart disease that let you know to start considering lifestyle changes.
Sometimes doctors are tasked with telling patients things they don’t want to hear, but knowing in advance that you’re at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes if you don’t make some changes is better than finding out once you have it. Talk to your doctor, and take the advice they give. Changing your lifestyle is hard, but living with a preventable illness is harder.