Several lifestyle factors play roles in type 2 diabetes risk

Lifestyle improvements are important for helping individuals with type 2 diabetes manage their condition, but which are the most important areas of well-being to focus on? A healthy diet can help a person control their blood sugar levels and avoid long-term complications, but physical exercise has been shown to improve the body's response to insulin.

A group of researchers from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and the National Cancer Institute recently tried to answer the question of which lifestyle factors are most important to individuals with type 2 diabetes. Essentially, the answer they came up with is: all of the above.

The team assessed the health of more than 200,000 men and women between the ages of 50 and 71 over a 10-year period. The results, which were published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, showed that men who ate a healthy diet, exercised and did not smoke were 61 percent less likely to develop type 2 diabetes. Women were 43 percent less likely to become diabetic.

When men also had a healthy body weight, their risk was reduced by another 28 percent. Women were an additional 16 percent less likely to develop type 2 diabetes.

The researchers said their findings suggest that lifestyle factors have a compounding effect on type 2 diabetes risk. One healthy lifestyle factor is important and may lower a person's odds, but several may be even more beneficial.

"Lifestyle factors, when considered in combination, are associated with a substantial reduction in risk for diabetes," the researchers concluded in their report.

The findings largely confirm what was already known. Incorporating a healthy diet into a regimen that also includes plenty of physical activity is the best way in which individuals with the condition can make improvements in their management of the disease. The Mayo Clinic lists diet and exercise as the two top lifestyle areas in which diabetics can make improvements to support their health.

This type of advice means that individuals with type 2 diabetes may need to make changes in their life to improve their management of their condition. While this may seem like a daunting challenge, the American Diabetes Association says it can be relatively easy.

First, to get more exercise each day, the Association recommends simply finding ways to take more steps. Second, in order to eat healthier, individuals should use the 50-25-25 method. When preparing meals, half the plate should be vegetables, one-quarter should be protein and the remaining quarter should be whole grains.

Changing lifestyle habits that have developed over the course of many years may take a significant amount of willpower. However, when a person considers the long-term health benefits of doing so, the decision to eat right and get more exercise may be a simple one. These things each play a large role in a person's type 2 diabetes risk, and addressing each one may lead to major improvements in well-being.