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10 Ways to Lower Your Diabetes Risk

Protect yourself and improve your health with these simple steps

Reduce Diabetes Risk

En español l If you¹re one of the millions of Americans at risk of diabetes, you may be overwhelmed by the thought of overhauling your diet and lifestyle. But take heart. New research shows that even small fixes can reduce your risk.

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Get 6 to 8 Hours of Sleep Nightly

Researchers at the University of Warwick in England found that people who slept less than five or six hours a night were 28 percent more likely to develop diabetes than those who slept six to eight hours.

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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. For a healthy alternative, try green tea, or seltzer with unsweetened cranberry or pomegranate juice.

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Cut the Fat, Up the Fiber

The ideal diabetes prevention diet consists of 15 percent fat, 15 percent protein and 70 percent carbohydrates, with the majority of those carbs coming from fruits, vegetables and whole grains, says George King, M.D., director of research at the Joslin Diabetes Center at Harvard Medical School. High fiber “makes you feel full quicker and helps you absorb calories slower," he says. "That puts less stress on your beta cells" — the cells in your pancreas that make insulin.

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Don't Rely on Supplements

New research finds that whole foods — think mainly fruits and vegetables — contain molecules that help activate the nutrients your body needs for weight and blood sugar control. "That's why food works and supplements don't," King says.

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Savor Your Food

Eating slowly 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. Plus, people who have peer support tend to do better at losing weight and keeping it off, says Minneapolis dietitian Jackie Boucher.

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Move After Meals

Taking a 15-minute stroll a half hour after you eat lowers postmeal blood sugar levels for at least three hours, a new study shows. The results are immediate, but the 30-minute time frame is key. Aim for these short jaunts following every meal.

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Bulk Up

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

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Walk About

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 Colberg. But moving around for two minutes every half hour boosts your metabolism enough to lower glucose. Set a timer if you need a reminder.

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Calm Yourself

"When you're stressed, your levels of the stress hormone cortisol go up, and inflammatory chemicals called cytokines increase," says Joslin Diabetes Center’s King. "Both of these cause insulin resistance," which leads to diabetes. Stress-reduction programs can help; they improve blood sugar control, too, recent studies find.

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Ask About New Meds

The latest class of diabetes medications blocks the kidneys from reabsorbing glucose. So diabetes patients who take the drug end up getting rid of excess glucose through their urine. "Some doctors don't much like this because, philosophically, it means you've given up trying to control how much glucose you have in your body," King says. But, ultimately, these medications do rid the body of harmful excess glucose.

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