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Diabetes is on the rise among Americans of all ages: 26 million people have some form of the disease; 78 million have pre-diabetes.

The good news is that preventive measures can delay the onset of diabetes, and controlling weight and cholesterol, blood pressure and blood glucose levels can help prevent complications once diabetes is present.

Proper diet and exercise seem to be the prescription for many common health problems: high blood pressure and cholesterol, heart disease, stroke, and obesity.

In fact, health experts recommend proper diet and exercise to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, a condition that also is affecting more and more adolescents who are exchanging outdoor activities for computer games, and carrots and yogurt for chips, cookies, and soda.

The National Institutes of Health conducted a breakthrough study to show that diet and exercise can delay diabetes. The clinical trial proved that a half hour of walking or other low-intensity exercise daily, combined with a low-fat diet, reduced the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 58 percent.

Diet and exercise

Weight loss resulting from healthy eating and increased physical activity enables muscle cells to use insulin and glucose more efficiently, thus lowering diabetes risk. Lack of exercise can cause muscle cells to lose their sensitivity to insulin, which controls levels of sugar in the blood.

"Even if you don't lose weight, exercise will make you stronger and healthier," says endocrinologist Douglas Zlock, MD, medical director of the diabetes center at John Muir Health. "Healthy habits can definitely postpone the onset of diabetes even if they don't prevent it."

The certified diabetes educators at John Muir Health are firm believers that those at risk for diabetes can develop a flexible care program with the help of a diabetes team.  Important clinical trials have shown that exercise, healthy eating, and modest weight reduction can prevent diabetes.  It takes time and effort to reduce your risk of diabetes; however this investment in your health is a valuable one!

Avoid complications

Although cutting out fatty foods and sweets and motivating oneself to maintain a daily exercise program can take some discipline, the payoff is tremendous because people at risk for diabetes are much more prone to developing cardiovascular disease.

Heart disease is two to four times more prevalent in those with diabetes and the risk of stroke is two to four times higher; high blood pressure manifests itself in the majority of adults with the disease; and diabetes is the leading cause of kidney disease.

"Controlling blood glucose, blood pressure, and blood cholesterol, along with regular preventive care can greatly reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular disease," says endocrinologist Douglas Zlock, MD. medical director of the Diabetes Center at John Muir Health.

Early detection

"Detecting diabetes early by screening those at high risk, especially because many people do not exhibit symptoms, is vital to preventing complications," Dr. Zlock says.

Those more predisposed to diabetes are Hispanic Americans, African-Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, older adults, women who have had gestational diabetes, people who are overweight or inactive, and people with a family history of diabetes.

If you fall into one of these groups, you should be especially careful to monitor your lifestyle and follow the suggestions below. If you are at very high risk, obese, and under 60 years of age, your doctor may also recommend medication.


Experts recommend incorporating the following suggestions into a health care regimen:

  • Exercise at least 30 minutes a day
  • Eat a low-fat, low-sugar diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains
  • Maintain your ideal weight through sufficient exercise and well-balanced meals
  • Check your blood cholesterol at least once a year. Total cholesterol should be below 200, with LDL under 100, HDL (good cholesterol) above 60, and triglycerides below 150
  • Keep blood pressure under control at 130/80 or lower
  • Avoid smoking
  • Drink in moderation
  • Regular follow up with your doctor