Diet and exercise. Diet and exercise. It's a drumbeat most middle-aged and older patients hear from their doctors every year. But for those with Type 2 diabetes, these basic lifestyle factors can play a key role in controlling the disorder and preventing serious complications such as blindness, nerve disorders and kidney failure.
People with Type 2 diabetes aren't able to respond properly to insulin, an essential hormone that helps transfer sugar from the bloodstream to cells, where it is used for energy. When patients become insulin resistant, blood sugar can build up to dangerous levels. The biggest risk factors for the disease are genetic predisposition and being overweight. More than 23 million Americans have Type 2 diabetes, and an additional 57 million are at risk of developing it, according to the American Diabetes Assn.
With consistent blood sugar control and careful attention to cholesterol and blood pressure levels, most Type 2 diabetics can keep the disease in check. Large studies confirm the power of healthy habits. Adopting a low-fat, low-calorie diet and regular exercise to trim 5% to 10% of one's body weight is enough to prevent Type 2 diabetes from developing or to bring diabetics' blood sugar, cholesterol and other key markers within healthy limits.