By Becky Gradl, MPH, RD, LDN, CHES®, Contributing Writer
One of the risk factors for diabetes is age. This means that as age increases, the risk for getting diabetes increases. Age cannot be changed as a risk factor, but some risk factors can be changed to prevent or delay getting diabetes. Since November is National Diabetes Awareness month, this is a great time to review diabetes prevention for older adults.
Diabetes risk factors
Besides age, there are two other risk factors for diabetes that cannot be changed. These risk factors are family history of diabetes and one’s race. Native Americans, Hispanics, Pacific Islanders, and African Americans have an increased risk of developing diabetes. There are also risk factors that can be changed to delay or prevent diabetes. These risk factors are being overweight, not being physically active, and having prediabetes. Prediabetes occurs when the glucose level in one’s blood is higher than what is considered normal, but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes.
Having these risk factors does not mean someone will necessarily develop diabetes. Having one or more of these factors, however, does increase the risk. Making lifestyle changes can prevent or delay getting diabetes. These lifestyle changes include weight loss, physical activity, and healthy eating.
Being overweight raises the risk for diabetes and other health conditions, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. Research has shown that moderate weight loss might help prevent and control these health conditions. Moderate weight loss would be losing about 10 to 15 pounds. Aim to lose one to two pounds per week to keep weight loss healthy. Set small and realistic goals for weight loss. Some ways to lose weight include sitting less, increasing activity, and eating smaller portions.
Physical activity has many benefits beyond helping with weight loss. It lowers the blood glucose level, lowers blood pressure, promotes better sleep, and reduces stress. It also helps strengthen the heart. Physical activity should include aerobic, strength, and stretching forms. Aerobic activity includes walking, running, swimming, or biking. Strength activities include weight-bearing exercises such as weight lifting, using toning cords, or sit-ups. Strength training is good for the muscles and bones. Physical activity in the form of stretching, such as yoga, helps to improve flexibility and balance. Improved flexibility and balance can also prevent falls, which are common for older adults.
Unhealthy eating does not cause diabetes, but it does contribute to weight gain and being overweight, which is a risk factor for diabetes. One way to eat a healthy and balanced diet is to follow the “plate method.” The plate method divides the plate into sections to focus on proper portion sizes. One half of the plate should be vegetables, such as broccoli, carrots, tomatoes, cauliflower, and a salad. One quarter of the plate should be a lean protein, such as chicken, turkey, lean beef, fish, or legumes. The remaining quarter of the plate should be a starch or grain, such as peas, potatoes, corn, pasta, or rice. To complete the meal, add a small piece of fruit and a glass of milk.
Excessive thirst and frequent urination are symptoms of having diabetes, but often there are no symptoms. If you have concerns about having diabetes or your risk for diabetes, please check with your doctor.
Some information courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Diabetes Association.