Today’s fast-paced world leaves people little time to worry about their health—that is, until a medical emergency forces them to reassess their habits. That’s when it becomes apparent how much influence lifestyle choices have on our quality of life. For example, each day in the U.S., more than 4,000 people are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, a chronic condition marked by high levels of blood glucose that can lead to serious complications and premature death. And while there is no cure for the disease, it can be managed by eating healthy foods, exercising, maintaining a healthy weight and, if needed, medications or insulin therapy to regulate blood sugar levels. But researchers say these same healthy lifestyle choices can also significantly delay or perhaps even prevent type 2 diabetes, even for those who are at high risk for the disease.
Results from the four-year randomized Look AHEAD (Action for Health in Diabetes) trial, published in the latest issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, found that lifestyle changes improved weight, fitness, glycemic control, blood pressure, and levels of HDL cholesterol and triglycerides over a control group that provided diabetes support and education.
The Look AHEAD trial enrolled 5,145 patients aged 55 to 76 who were overweight or obese and had type 2 diabetes. Half were assigned to the intensive lifestyle intervention and half were provided diabetes support and education. The intervention included physical activity and diet modification that were monitored and reinforced in regular intervals: weekly during the first 6 months, three times per month for the second 6 months, and twice per month for the remaining two years. The control support/education group met in group classes three times per year.
Statistics showed that the lifestyle group lost significantly more weight, increased treadmill fitness, and had improved over the control group in all blood tests (hemoglobin, HDL cholesterol and triglycerides). In addition, their blood pressure was lower overall.
A study published last October in The Lancet, found similar results. In that case, 3,234 overweight or obese adults with elevated blood glucose levels participated in the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP), a three-year randomized trial. Initial DPP results showed that the program, which consisted of reducing fat and calories, increasing physical activity to 150 minutes a week, and frequent interaction with health-care professionals who provided training in diet, exercise and behavior modification, reduced the development of type 2 diabetes by 58 percent. The follow-up study, Diabetes Prevention Program Outcomes Study (DPPOS), included 2,766 individuals and found that diet and exercise not only cut the risk of developing diabetes by 34 percent over a 10-year period, but also sustained a moderate weight loss and had lower blood pressure and triglyceride levels.
Too often doctors rely on prescription medications to control diabetes when lifestyle changes would be more effective and produce a healthier individual. Discuss with your doctor if you might be a candidate for such a program and if a weight loss clinic would be a feasible alternative.