Take steps to prevent diabetes

The phrase "you are what you eat" expresses the common wisdom that eating good food will keep you fit and healthy. When it comes to preventing diabetes, combining a good diet with a good walk can be particularly effective.

What is diabetes? It's a chronic disease that affects the body's ability to regulate blood sugar, also known as glucose. When too much glucose builds up in the bloodstream, it can lead to serious complications, including kidney damage, eye problems and heart disease.

According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), 26 million children and adults in the United States have diabetes, that's 8.3 percent of the population. The most common form is type 2 diabetes. This occurs when the body cannot produce enough insulin to regulate blood sugar or it ignores the insulin it does produce.

Before people develop type 2 diabetes, they almost always go through a stage called pre-diabetes, which means they have blood glucose levels that are higher than normal. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 79 million U.S. adults have pre-diabetes. Half of Americans 65 and older suffer from the condition. By making certain lifestyle changes, however, people diagnosed with pre-diabetes may be able to prevent it from developing into type 2 diabetes.

An important clinical study called the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) was published in the New England Journal of Medicine nearly a decade ago. It found that while some medications may delay the development of diabetes, changes in diet and exercise work even better.

The DPP study found that people with pre-diabetes who reduced their intake of fat and calories and who exercised 150 minutes per week were able to reduce their weight by 7 percent and maintain this lower weight. Overall, these lifestyle changes helped reduce by 58 percent the chances of these people developing type 2 diabetes.

Another study, published in the British Medical Journal reported that adults who increased their walking to 10,000 steps a day over a five-year period, had a three-fold improvement in "insulin sensitivity" (the way in which the body recognizes insulin in the blood) over those who only increased their steps to 3,000 per day. The study's authors found that walking reduces body fat, which in turn lowers the risk of developing diabetes.

The ADA recommends that people diagnosed with pre-diabetes exercise a minimum of 30 minutes per day. It also recommends a diet rich in fruit, non-starchy vegetables (such as spinach and carrots), whole grains, fish and lean meat. Non-fat dairy products-skim milk, nonfat yogurt and nonfat cheese-also help reduce the chances of developing diabetes.

So put on your walking shoes and take some important steps toward a healthier lifestyle that may reduce your chances diabetes. Talk to your healthcare provider to learn your risk for diabetes and other ways to prevent it.