According to the American Diabetes Association, there are 26 million adults with diabetes today. There are another 79 million who have prediabetes—which means they have a very high risk of getting the full disease.
One of the reasons that diabetes is such a dangerous disease is that it can raise your risk for a variety of other medical problems. These include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart attack, and stroke.
There are many different medicines that can be used to treat diabetes. In addition, making lifestyle changes can have a big impact on the overall health of someone with the disease. These lifestyle changes are usually easier, less expensive, and have fewer side effects (or none at all) than diabetes medicines. And, according to a new study, making these changes as soon as you find out you have diabetes could lower your risk for heart problems and death.
The study included 867 people who were between the ages of 40 and 69. All of the people in the study had been recently diagnosed with diabetes.
At the start of the study, everyone answered some basic questions about their lifestyle, including what they ate, how much alcohol they drank, and how much they exercised. Both groups then answered these questions again after 1 year, and the answers were compared.
Each person in the study was then given a score based on how many healthy behavior changes they had made during that year. One point was given for each of these 4 healthy lifestyle changes:
- Eating fewer calories and less trans fat
- Increasing physical activity
- Eating more fiber and vitamin C
- Drinking less alcohol, or stopping altogether
People were then followed for another 5 years to see how many had developed health problems related to heart disease, such as:
- Heart attack
- A procedure to open up a blocked artery in the heart
- Death from heart disease
The researchers wanted to know if people who made more healthy lifestyle changes were less likely to have one of the 4 health problems listed above.
Overall, the results of the study showed that the more changes people made, the less likely they were to have problems related to heart disease. People who made 3 or 4 healthy lifestyle changes had the fewest problems. They were:
- Almost 3/4 less likely to have heart-related problems than people who made just 2 changes.
- Four times less likely to have heart-related problems than people who made 1 change or no changes.
These same benefits were seen no matter what age or sex people were, or how many medicines they took. Getting more exercise was the healthy behavior change that seemed to give the most benefit.
What do these results mean for you?
The results of this study show that making healthy lifestyle changes as soon as possible after you find out you have diabetes can have a big impact on your long-term health. Plus, the more you learn about your disease and how to take care of it, the easier it will be to do just that!
The take home points
- Diabetes affects millions of people, with millions more at high risk for getting it.
- Making healthy lifestyle changes, such as getting more exercise, improving your diet, and drinking less alcohol, can lower your risk for heart problems.
- Increasing the amount of exercise you get seems to offer the most benefit to your heart.
- It’s never too late to make healthy lifestyle changes—the sooner you make them, the sooner your health will start to improve.
- If you have any questions about what you read here, or about how to change your lifestyle to be more diabetes-friendly, talk to your healthcare provider at your next office visit.