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Forming Healthy Habits To Avoid Pre-Diabetes

Sitting at a desk all day at my age necessitates some sort of early morning exercise to get my metabolism going. If I don’t do it first thing, chances are it won’t get done. When the community pool is open during the summer, swimming is my preferred work out. I have to mentally commit to a number of laps before I get in the pool otherwise I’ll end up finding an excuse to stop.

Being over-weight and at risk for pre-diabetes I can’t afford to stop. The CDC reports that one in four adults, nearly 57 million people in the US have pre-diabetes. Using data from The National Health Interview Survey , the CDC found that only 4% of these adults are told by their physicians or health plans that they are prediabetic. So 96% are not even aware that they are considered prediabetic. If your BMI is nudging 30 as mine is, chances are you’re at least at risk for pre-diabetes and you need to do something about it. At the very least change your perception about the risk of becoming full blown type 2 diabetic, or as it’s commonly known, developing adult onset diabetes.

The American Diabetes Association defines prediabetes as having a blood glucose level higher than normal but not yet high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. The statistics guys say that if you have prediabetes you are between 5 and ten times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than someone without it. Regular exercise will decrease the chance of you being in the wrong column of that bar chart.

The recommended exercise goal is to work out for at least thirty minutes five days a week. For me, the hardest part is on the mental side of it, where I find myself thinking during the first few laps that there’s so many more to do and that I’ll never get through it. But I always do, and more often than not, as I’m down to the last few laps, I don’t want to stop as I realize that I enjoy my time in the pool and find it therapeutic. I use the time to think about my day and what I want to achieve. When I got out the pool this morning the daylight had transitioned to a bright clear day and the sun had started to shine, and I felt awake after my swim. After exercise most people feel great. You feel alive. It doesn’t matter what type of exercise you do. An evening stroll after dinner is huge. The Italians for all the high carb pasta intake have a relatively low incidence of diabetes and in the national rankings ranks a full 100 places lower compared to the US (129 vs 29). The culture of the nightly evening stroll or passeggiata as it is known, has to help.

But exercise alone won’t do it. You’ve got to get a handle on your diet as well. Forming healthy habits doesn’t have to be that hard. The key here is the different levels of moderation- changing your expectations of normal intake. A meal doesn’t have to include a soft drink as every fast food chain would have you believe. Some sugar on your cornflakes is ok, drinking a can of soda every time you’re thirsty is not. Portion size isn’t necessarily what’s put in front of you at a restaurant.

Discussions with my friends and neighbors, who are about the same age as me in my early 50’s, I’ve come to appreciate that healthy habits are really important if only to counteract the unhealthy ones accumulated over the years. For a long time I used to limit myself to just one soda a day thinking that was a decent balance between a craving for a coke and knowing that soda intake needs to be moderated. But it’s not. A typical 12 ounce can of soda has 150 calories and 40 grams of carbohydrates the equivalent of 10, yes ten, teaspoons of sugar, or in swimming terms at least ten laps- probably more. Mayor Bloomberg in New York was right. Eliminating supersized sodas would have a massive impact on the general health of the populace and the associated healthcare costs. In my opinion sodas should be taxed just as cigarettes are.

It’s been shown that drinking sugary drinks is linked to type II diabetes. The important thing here is to know that sodas are not good for anyone. Not you, not your kids or your grand kids. If you don’t buy them they won’t get drunk which is a good habit to get into. If you have to drink one, savor it as a rarity not a daily occurrence. If you are at risk for diabetes, fuhgeddaboudit, as the mayor would say.

On the food side of things it’s the carbs that are my weakness. I love bread and pasta. I’m lucky enough to have the best baker in the whole of Atlanta about three miles from where I live. It’s a Saturday afternoon ritual where I go and buy bread and come home and freeze it for the week. Bread isn’t an unhealthy food to eat but the intake needs to be balanced. Carbohydrate intake per meal should be kept between 45- 60 grams, and that’s where I fall down, I eat too much coupled with the fact that I’m a “butter snob.” Good bread deserves good butter and all fat in-take, especially trans and saturated fats needs to be monitored carefully.

Veggies and fruit are considered healthy foods, but as well as containing lots of vitamins and minerals they also contain carbohydrates and they need to be accounted for as well.

As a rule of thumb, avoiding processed food is always a good idea and fast food falls into that category. A healthy habit is to try to plan meals for the week. A trip to the supermarket twice a week with a grocery list will help you avoid falling into the convenient fast food trap. Taking the time to design a menu for the week or the following few days with the members of your family will help keep you on track and hopefully also encourage family time sharing enjoyable quality meals. Watching the food network may also inspire the adventurous. The toughest thing in the world is to eat well when you’re on the road. People who travel a lot for work really have to focus on meal planning. If they don’t they are a “shoo- in” for some bad news from the doc. I think the trick here is to eat the kids meals at fast food restaurants if that’s the only option to you and trade the soda for water.

If you’ve read all of this, it probably all sounds a bit obvious. You’ve heard it a thousand times from your own mother, “enjoy all things in moderation” especially alcohol. It’s an age old piece of advice and it’s true. The key is to form the habits that support the advice.