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6 Ways to Beat Diabetes — for Good

Small changes to your diet and habits can reduce the risk

Diabetes walk after meals (Matt Chase)

One way to reduce the risk of diabetes: Eat (slowly) and then go for a walk. — Illustration by Matt Chase

Overwhelmed by the thought of overhauling your diet and lifestyle? New research shows that small fixes can also reduce your risk.

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1. Give up soda

Just one or two sugar-sweetened beverages a day increase your risk of diabetes by 26 percent, a new Harvard School of Public Health review of studies finds. "Sodas can be hard to give up because high-fructose corn syrup and caffeine can be addictive," says Deborah Berman, a dietitian in Bethpage, N.Y. For a healthy alternative, try green tea or seltzer with unsweetened cranberry or pomegranate juice.

2. Eat healthy fats

Adopting the Mediterranean diet, with its abundance of fish and heart-healthy olive oil, can lower your risk of diabetes by a whopping 83 percent. "Olive oil is a good fat that boosts insulin sensitivity," explains Minneapolis dietitian Jackie Boucher. Vegetables, whole grains and nuts "also lower blood sugar and cholesterol and keep you slimmer because these foods are plant-based, not processed," she adds.

3. Walk and talk

We know that sitting too long can be deadly; now new research shows that people who sit six to eight hours a day are 19 percent more likely to have diabetes. "Extended sitting slows your body's ability to metabolize glucose," says Sheri Colberg, a professor at Old Dominion University in Virginia whose research and writing focus on diabetes and exercise. But moving around for two minutes every half hour ups your metabolism enough to lower glucose. Set a timer if you need a reminder.

4. Bulk up

Why is strength training so important? "Muscles are where we store most of our glucose," says Colberg. "If your muscles are small, there's less storage space. Glucose from food is released into your blood, and blood sugar rises." One University of Ottawa study even found resistance training kept blood sugar lower longer than aerobic exercise did. Try to lift weights twice a week.

5. Savor your food

Eating slowly boosts satiety and prompts us to eat smaller portions. Studies also show that friends and family can influence our habits, so surround yourself with like-minded loved ones who want to improve their health and manage their weight. Plus, people who have peer support tend to do better at losing weight and keeping it off, Boucher says.

6. Move after meals

Taking a 15-minute stroll a half hour after you eat lowers post-meal blood sugar levels for at least three hours, a new study shows. "The muscle contractions resulting from the exercise are what help clear the blood sugar," says lead author Loretta DiPietro. The results are immediate, but the 30-minute time frame is key. Aim for these short jaunts following every meal.

Holly St. Lifer is a freelance writer.


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