Type II diabetes is a metabolic condition which is becoming increasingly common, mainly because of an increase in sedentary lifestyles and the prevalence of obesity. Yet, the disease doesn’t have to manifest and it is possible to reduce your risk of developing it by making some important changes to your lifestyle.
What is type II diabetes?
Type II diabetes can occur at any age but is most common in people over 40. However, younger people are developing the disease because of poor lifestyles. “The first step to reducing your risk of type II diabetes is understanding what your individual risk factors are. You can do this by using Diabetes UK’s free, online Know Your Risk tool”, Emma Elvin, Senior Clinical Advisor at Diabetes UK, says “Once you understand your risk you can take action to reduce it. Some risk factors for type II diabetes can’t be changed, such as family history, age and ethnicity. However, there are other risk factors which can be modified, like weight, waist circumference and blood pressure”.
The symptoms may not always be obvious and usually, the disease takes a while to fully develop. Individuals who have type II diabetes don’t make enough of the hormone, insulin.
Insulin is made by the pancreas and it releases the hormone insulin in response to rising blood glucose levels. When we eat, the glucose in our food is absorbed into the bloodstream. The release of insulin allows the circulating glucose to be taken up by our cells, who use it for energy. As a result, the release of insulin slows down and the blood glucose levels return to normal.
Type II diabetes can be caused by:
- The pancreatic beta cells may have trouble producing insulin. So, they may produce some, but not enough to meet the body’s needs.
- The insulin doesn’t work as expected. In this case, insulin receptors are insensitive and don’t respond to the insulin in the bloodstream, so blood glucose levels remain high.
Prolonged, increases blood glucose levels are harmful to the body, particularly the blood vessels. When the blood vessels become damaged, blood is unable to travel effectively around the body, so vital nutrients and oxygen may not reach these parts. Consequently, nerves can also become damaged and when both blood vessels and nerves are damaged in one area of the body, complications can arise.
Complications of type II diabetes include:
- Eye problems
- Heart attacks
- Kidney problems
- Nerve damage
- Foot problems
Making some simple changes to your lifestyle can reduce the risk of developing type II diabetes significantly. Risk factors for the development of the disease include:
- Weight gain and obesity, especially around the middle
- High cholesterol and triglycerides
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
“Being overweight is the most significant risk factor for developing type II diabetes and is associated with 80% to 85% of risk. So, if you’re overweight, ask for support from your healthcare team to help you find the best way for you to lose weight. Eating better and moving more are also important parts of reducing your risk”, says Emma, “set realistic goals for yourself, and make lifestyle changes that fit in with how you already live your life. Choose healthy foods and activities that you already enjoy, and if you have a bad day, don’t let that put you off forever. No one’s perfect.”
Therefore, the following lifestyle changes can help to reduce your overall risk:
- Weight loss
- Reducing alcohol intake
- Quitting smoking
How your diet can help prevent type II diabetes
Diet is a major risk factor for the development of type II diabetes. Convenience foods such as ready meals, fast food and fizzy drinks are thought to be major contributors because they have high sugar, salt and saturated fat contents.
However, you can reduce your chances of developing type II diabetes by making changes to your diet. Diets which don’t cause your body to produce lots of insulin are particularly beneficial:
- Reduce your carbohydrate intake or choose healthier options:
- Wholegrain bread, pasta
- Brown rice
- Incorporate as many fruits and vegetables as you can into your diet
- Swap snacks like cakes, sweets and crisps for food such as fruit, nuts and seeds
- Cut out sugary drinks
- Aim for 2 portions of oily fish per week
- Avoid processed foods
- Fast food
- Processed ready meals
Alcohol contains a lot of calories and so it increases your chance of obesity which is a risk factor for type II diabetes. Plus, alcohol is responsible for reducing the body’s sensitivity to insulin, a cause of type II diabetes. Therefore, although you shouldn’t need to give up drinking alcohol entirely, you should limit your intake. Current advice is no one should drink more than 14 units of alcohol per week.
Exercise and preventing type II diabetes
A great way to naturally lower your blood sugar levels is exercise.
Exercise reduces the amount of glucose in the blood because muscles can use it as an energy source, even if there is little or no insulin present. Aerobic exercise at a moderate to vigorous intensity has long been recommended to prevent the development of conditions such as obesity and type II diabetes. The body’s insulin sensitivity can be improved after just one week of aerobic exercise.
Adults should aim to complete at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week. So, you could perform 30 minutes every day for five days and rest for two, it is important you have rest days to let your body recover. Aerobic activities include:
- Brisk walking
You should combine this with strength exercise on 2 or more days per week, too. Strength exercises should work your major muscles and you may choose weights or your own body weight using exercises like press ups, pull ups or sit ups.
As you progress you may prefer to incorporate some vigorous aerobic exercise into your programme. 75 minutes per week is advisable instead of 150 minutes of aerobic activity, but this should also be combined with strength training. Vigorous intensity aerobic activities include:
- Swimming laps
- Playing singles tennis
Additional benefits of exercise are:
- Increases good cholesterol and reduces bad cholesterol
- Better mental health
- Lower blood pressure
- Better weight control
- Strong Bones
- Better sleep
- Increased energy levels
- Stronger muscles
If you have type II diabetes or you think you may be at risk, you should speak to your doctor before starting any new exercise. Making changes to your diet and increasing your physical activity levels can help to reduce the risk of developing type II diabetes.
Colberg, S, R et al. (2010). Exercise and Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes Care: 33(12), pp e147-e167.
National Health Service. (2018). Exercise. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/
Sami, W et al. (2017). Effect of Diet on Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: A Review. Int J Health Sci (Qassim): 11(2), pp 65-71.
Society for Endocrinology. (2018). Insulin. Available at: http://www.yourhormones.info/hormones/insulin/
Tuomilehto, J et al. (2001). Prevention of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus by Changes in Lifestyle Among Subjects with Impaired Glucose Tolerance. The New England Journal of Medicine: 344(18), pp 1343-1350.