Diabetes is a chronic disease that occurs when the pancreas is no longer able to make insulin, or when the body cannot make good use of the insulin it produces.
Having just been dubbed the epidemic of the 21st Century, diabetes is no small problem.
It comes in two forms; type 1 and type 2 diabetes, both forms very different from the other.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease where the immune system destroys the cells of the pancreas which are responsible for producing the hormone insulin. As a result, people with type 1 diabetes cannot produce insulin and need to administer it via subcutaneous injections or an insulin pump. They are classified as insulin-dependent type 1 diabetics.
Type 2 diabetics can still produce insulin; however, they develop a resistance to it, causing a build-up of sugar in the bloodstream. Over time, it’s possible that those with type 2 diabetes will stop producing insulin due to overworking the pancreas.
While both types have elements in common, type 2 is more of a lifestyle-related disease. It’s usually caused by sedentary behaviour and poor nutrition. But the good news is, type 2 is easily preventable and treatable.
So what can you do to reduce your risk of developing diabetes?
We spoke with official Fitbit ambassador and diabetes educator, Drew Harrisberg, and he shared his top tips to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes…
WALK AFTER MEALS
Walking after meals (especially carbohydrate heavy meals) is proven to reduce the post-meal blood sugar spike and ultimately stabilise your blood sugar levels. Doing 15 to 20 minutes of walking or 2 to 3,000 steps should do the trick, and it’s really useful to use a wearable device such as a Fitbit to track this.
LIFT WEIGHTS (OR YOUR BODYWEIGHT)
Lifting weights helps the body to prepare for incoming glucose. Try to think of your muscles as sponges. Where a glycogen-depleted muscle is like a dry sponge ready to soak up sugar, a glycogen replenished muscle is like a wet sponge with very little room to soak up any sugar. Weightlifting allows glucose to enter muscle cells without the need for insulin. Both of these factors combined are a great formula for healthy insulin and blood sugar control. Weight lifting can also increase muscle mass. As muscle is a metabolically expensive tissue meaning you actually burn more calories (fat) with more muscle on your frame!
TRAIN FULL BODY CIRCUITS
Muscle glycogen is essentially locked inside a muscle cell until it’s released by contracting that specific muscle. Bicep curls deplete bicep glycogen stores while shoulder pressing depletes deltoid glycogen. By training full body circuits, you can burn stored glycogen from all of the muscles of the body and help prevent blood sugar spikes.
Studies have shown that a sleepless night can result in temporary insulin resistance the following day and that by not getting enough sleep you can actually reduce your insulin sensitivity. Prioritise sleep quality and quantity. Aim for 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night, preferably in darkness. Fitbit have a great sleep feature built into their devices which helps to track sleep quality and quantity.
GET SOME SUN
Studies show that subjects with low vitamin D levels below the normal range are at a higher risk of insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome. It was even shown that Vitamin D was positively correlated with beta cell function, the site at which insulin is produced, indicating that vitamin-D may have beneficial effects on insulin production in Type 1 diabetes. Make sure to get your daily dose of direct, unprotected sunlight between 10am and 2pm. Five to fifteen minutes is all it takes (depending on your UV tolerance). Remember the key is not to burn! Consider taking Vitamin-D supplementation if sunlight is unavailable for you or in the winter months when sunlight is less effective in stimulating endogenous Vitamin-D production by the body.
EAT REAL FOOD
Processed and refined foods contain hidden sugars and other nasties. Make sure you eat whole foods like nature intended. Ensure to get plenty of fibre, micronutrients, vitamins and minerals. Stick to vegetables (mainly non-starchy), some low-sugar/high-fibre fruit (berries), fish, eggs, meat, nuts and seeds.
EAT A LOW CARB DIET
A low carb diet is a great way to lose body fat, especially fat around the cells of the body that contribute towards insulin resistance. Even a slight reduction in carbohydrates can lead to improved body composition, metabolism and insulin sensitivity. Fewer carbs mean smaller and less frequent insulin spikes. Remember, insulin is an ‘on switch’ for fat storage. Eat fewer carbs, reduce your insulin spikes, burn more body fat and become more insulin sensitive. It’s a positive cycle. There is a ‘but’ though…
Eating a very low carb diet for an extended period of time can cause the body to become temporarily insulin resistant. This is actually just part of your body’s insulin regulation. Your body knows that it doesn’t need to be insulin sensitive with only small amounts of glucose coming into the body. It also knows that being insulin resistant allows for fat to be burnt properly. It’s still important to have a carb re-feed meal every now and then (once or twice a week), preferably before and/or after high-intensity training. This will re-sensitise the body to insulin and allow for carbs to be better tolerated. It’s all about balance!
LOSE EXCESS BODY FAT
Fat accumulation around the cells of the body can interfere with insulin’s receptor site on the surface of the cell causing insulin resistance. Losing fat will improve insulin sensitivity and blood sugar control. Walking, running and weights are all great ways to burn fat, but it’s important to consider your diet as well.
Our mental health is quite often forgotten when looking after ourselves. Stress, whether it’s physical, emotional, psychological or metabolic, causes the liver to turn on its ‘glucose tap’ and releases glucose into the bloodstream. At the same time, this causes liver, muscle and fat tissue to become insulin resistant. This is a recipe for poor blood sugar control and fat storage. Managing your stress levels is a simple way to counter the state of insulin resistance. Walking, listening to music and meditation are all great ways to reduce stress but it’s all about finding what works best for you. Regulating your breathing generally works for everyone and using guided breathing exercises through an app such as that offered by Fitbit is a great place to start.