November is National Diabetes Month, meaning it's as good a time as ever to learn what preventative measures you can take to help reduce your risk of a future diagnosis. Not only is there no cure for diabetes, but having the condition can also put you at risk of other diseases, including heart disease and kidney disease, as well as stroke and blindness.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take now to improve your chances of a healthy future.
Don't wait to lose weight
Type 1 diabetes, which is caused by problems with one's immune system, is impossible to prevent. However, the most common type of diabetes, type 2, typically affects people who are overweight. Therefore, losing weight can reduce your chances of contracting the disease.
If you are obese or overweight, you should figure out what your target weight is and work toward that goal. But according to the American Diabetes Association, even the loss of just 10 or 15 pounds can make a big difference. So set realistic weight loss goals that you can tackle with diet and exercise, knowing that each pound lost is a step in the right direction, and that a slimmer figure means slimmer chances of type 2 diabetes.
You are what you eat
Shedding excess pounds is the first step towards reducing your risk of type 2 diabetes, but changing your fundamental eating habits may also be necessary. The Harvard School of Public Health says the four most important changes you can make are choosing whole grains over highly processed carbohydrates, reducing your intake of sugary drinks such as sodas and some juices, picking chicken and fish over red meat and processed meat and cutting back on trans fats, which are found in margarines, packaged baked goods and most fried foods.
It may be hard to choose grilled chicken, veggies and unsweetened tea over a burger, fries and a cola, but choosing heart-healthy meals over fast food at lunch and dinnertime can have a huge impact on your health.
Get a move on
In addition to a more balanced diet, increased physical activity is another lifestyle change that can drastically reduce your future risk of diabetes. The American Diabetes Association recommends injecting a mix of activity, aerobic exercise, strength training and flexibility exercises into your daily routine.
You can increase your regular physical activity in many little ways-taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or parking further away from your office building or the grocery store so that you have to walk more. Aerobic exercise is not too taxing on your schedule either, as the ADA recommends just 30 minutes a day five days a week spent walking briskly, swimming or bicycle riding. And you don't need to be a gym rat to gain the benefits of strength training or flexibility exercises, which can take the form of lifting light weights at home and stretching gently for 5 to 10 minutes a day.
Choose your vices wisely
The Harvard School of Public Health reports that smokers are about 50 percent more likely than nonsmokers to develop diabetes. So if you are a tobacco user, it is strongly recommended that you try and quit now.
However, it is a different case entirely when it comes to alcohol. Harvard also argues that a growing body of evidence links moderate alcohol consumption (a drink a day for women, up to two drinks a day for men) to an increase in the efficiency of insulin at getting glucose inside cells, therefore potentially reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes. The trick, of course, is to keep alcohol consumption moderate, as excessive drinking can actually increase your risks.
Though genetics play a role in the development of diabetes, our own lifestyle choices are the most important factor. Weight loss, good eating habits, regular exercise and the occasional cocktail are all positive steps toward a healthy future.