Though your age or a family history of diabetes can affect your chances of developing the disease, your lifestyle plays a critical role, too. You may be surprised by how much a few daily habits can raise your risk. Keep reading to see which matter most — and how to stay out of the danger zone.
1. Skipping breakfast
There’s been a lot of back-and-forth over the value of breakfast to your health. But a large review of studies published in 2019 in The Journal of Nutrition pretty much concluded that those who skip breakfast are at greater risk of getting diabetes than those who sit down for their oatmeal or eggs. It appears the magic isn’t the meal itself but in how those who eat breakfast were able to maintain a lower body mass index (BMI).
That’s likely because skipping breakfast sets you up to overeat the rest of the day, says Melinda Maryniuk, a registered dietitian and owner of Diabetes and Nutrition Consultants in Boston. “Even if you don’t feel hunger pangs, you think you’re entitled to more — snacks, a bigger serving — because breakfast wasn’t eaten.”
Not a fan of traditional breakfast foods? Keep in mind that “there are no rules about what foods need to be eaten at breakfast — choose things that are easy and you enjoy,” Maryniuk says. Melted cheese in a tortilla with avocado? Sure, that can be breakfast. A high-protein smoothie made with yogurt or cottage cheese and berries? That can be breakfast, too. Just make sure you include protein and fat (egg, cheese, tofu, nut butter), as well as a fiber-rich carb such as whole fruit or whole-grain toast, she adds.
And coffee lovers, drink up: A review of studies published in Nutrients suggests regular coffee consumption — whether it’s caffeinated or decaf — may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. The researchers say at least part of the reason has to do with coffee phytochemicals, which help preserve pancreatic beta cell function.
2. Sitting for longer than 30 minutes at a stretch
You know that regular exercise is key to warding off a diabetes diagnosis. What you may not know is that sitting for prolonged periods — at the computer, on the couch, behind the wheel — carries risks.
A large study of more than 475,000 people, published in 2021 in Diabetes Care, found that replacing just 30 minutes a day of sedentary behavior with physical activity was associated with a 6 to 31 percent lower risk of type 2 diabetes. The researchers found that strenuous sweat sessions showed the greatest benefit.
That’s why the American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends everyone — even people who don’t have diabetes — get up every 30 minutes and do some form of light activity.
“Many studies now show that interrupting sitting with frequent movement improves how well your metabolism works and increases insulin sensitivity,” says Sheri Colberg, professor emerita of exercise science at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, and author of The 7 Step Diabetes Fitness Plan. “Most people with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes have some degree of insulin resistance; moving frequently may lower it.”
To break the sedentary habit, start by noting how much time you spend sitting. Then look for ways to reduce that amount: Set the alarm on your phone to stand up and move for a few minutes every half hour; do stretches during commercials while watching television; pace the house during phone calls. A study published in the suggests the positive effect on diabetes risk factors may kick in after only three months.