Twenty-six million adults and children have diabetes in the United States and nearly 7 million more are undiagnosed, according to the American Diabetes Association.
Those are startling numbers. But what is even more surprising is that 79 million Americans have pre-diabetes, yet only 7.3 percent have been diagnosed by their doctor.
Even though pre-diabetes is more prevalent than diabetes, it is not as well known. Most people who have Type II diabetes started with pre-diabetes. Finding this out early on can help delay or prevent the onset of Type II.
Pre-diabetes is a condition in which fasting blood glucose levels fall between 100-125 milligrams per deciliter, which is higher than normal but not high enough to be classified as diabetes. Although, without intervention, pre-diabetes is likely to turn into diabetes within 10 years.
Many risk factors contribute to the eventual diagnosis of Type II. These include being overweight, with a body mass index above 25, living a sedentary lifestyle and aging, especially past age 45. Other factors include having a family history of Type II and certain ethnicities, with African-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders at higher risk.
Some people with these risk factors might not have pre-diabetes yet, but might have insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone made in the pancreas that assists with metabolism.
With the help of insulin, once food is broken down to glucose, a form of sugar, cells can absorb it and use it for energy. Insulin resistance occurs when the body produces insulin but does not use it efficiently. Therefore, glucose builds up in the blood and the body continues to require more and more insulin to do the same job a smaller amount could handle previously.
The pancreas has a hard time keeping up with this need. This can lead to pre-diabetes and, eventually, diabetes.
The good news is people can change their prognosis. Some risk factors cannot be altered, but others, such as physical inactivity and having a BMI over 25 can be changed with a little effort to improve quality of life and help prevent the development of diabetes.
The American Diabetes Association says that losing just 7 percent of your body weight — 14 pounds for a person weighing 200 pounds — can lower risk for Type II diabetes by 58 percent. Choosing more healthful food options and exercising at a moderate intensity — such as a brisk walk for 30 minutes a day, five days a week — can help accomplish that goal.
In addition, studies have found that adding just 60 minutes a week of high intensity interval training to workouts can improve insulin sensitivity in sedentary, overweight adults. The training alternates short periods of very intense exercise with periods of low intensity. And example is sprinting on the treadmill for 10 seconds, then transitioning to a walk for 30-60 seconds. Average blood glucose levels improve over a 24-hour period after training.
Also, make sleep a priority. People sleep fewer than 6 hours or more than 9 hours a night are more likely to develop Type II. Not getting enough sleep each night makes it harder for bodies to effectively use insulin.
Search out local support groups or educators who have programs specifically for pre-diabetes if you think you could fall into this category. You don’t have to be prediabetic for exercise and a healthful diet to improve your well-being, but improving fitness will increase your chances of keeping diabetes at bay.
Jessica Goldsmith is a health and fitness advocate at the Walla Walla YMCA and member of BMAC AmeriCorps. She holds a bachelor’s degree in exercise science and is a certified group exercise instructor.