5 Lifestyle Factors Cut Diabetes Risk by 80%

Think that your risk of developing diabetes is predetermined by factors outside your control? A new large-scale study finds that a combination of five healthy lifestyle habits can reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by about 80%. Surprisingly, results did not differ for those who had a family history of diabetes or were overweight.

5 lifestyle factors cut diabetes risk janelangille.com

Epidemiologist Jared Reis, PhD, lead author of the study, says, “Our findings are quite persuasive. If you adopt other healthy lifestyle behaviors, you can still reduce your risk of developing diabetes if you are overweight or obese.” The study was conducted by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute at the National Institutes of Health.

Previous studies focused on the impacts of individual healthy habits, whereas this study investigated the combination effect. Reis and colleagues analyzed data collected from more than 200,000 adults in the U.S. aged 50 to 71 over a period of 11 years. The researchers found that for each healthy habit added, the risk of developing diabetes was lowered by 31% for men and 39% for women.

The report is welcome news as worldwide there are more than 347 million people who have diabetes, more than double the number three decades ago. In the U.S. alone, 25.6 million adults were diagnosed with diabetes in 2010, including 10.9 million aged 65 and older. Additionally, there are about 78 million Americans, or 35% of the adult population aged 20 years and older who have pre-diabetes – higher blood glucose levels than normal but not high enough yet to be classified as diabetes.

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that helps break down food into glucose so it can be used for energy. Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes, where the body does not produce enough insulin or use insulin efficiently. As glucose levels build up in the blood supply, type 2 diabetes can develop with complications like blindness, nerve damage, heart disease, and kidney problems.

5 low-risk lifestyle factors for reducing risk of diabetes:

Maintaining a healthy body weight. Maintaining a body mass index (BMI) between 18.5 – 24.9 kg/m2 was the most important factor. Men and women with healthy BMIs had a 70% and 78% lower risk of developing diabetes respectively, compared to those who were overweight.

Healthy diet. Those who consumed lower-glycemic index foods, a higher fiber intake, a higher ratio of polyunsaturated to saturated fat, and a lower intake of trans fat had much better odds of not developing type 2 diabetes than those with poor diets.

Smoking. Those who never smoked or quit smoking more than 10 years ago had significantly less risk than those who smoke.

Moderate alcohol consumption. Women who consumed no more than one drink per day and men who had no more than two drinks per day were in the lowest risk category.

Regular physical activity. People who were physically active for at least 20 minutes, 3 or more times a week had a reduced risk.

Reis says, “You may wonder, if you are physically active and have a healthy diet, is that enough? We found that for each factor added, the risk of developing diabetes was lowered. There is a clear benefit in adopting all five.”


Need some help getting started with healthy lifestyle habits? Calculate your BMI online to see if you have a healthy body weight. Check out, “My Plate Replaces the USDA Food Pyramid” and ChooseMyPlate.gov to see if your diet is on track. Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW to connect to a free quit-smoking help line in your state or find more information about how to quit at the American Lung AssociationLit2Quit is a new mobile game under development at Columbia University that can help people quit smoking. Visit the American Diabetes Association to find out more about risk factors, living with diabetes, and healthy food and fitness tips.

Originally published on GE Healthy Outlook, November 18, 2011. Copyright Jane Langille.

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