Aetna Monthly Health Watch: Small Lifestyle Changes Lead to Big Gains in Fighting Diabetes

By Anne Beal, MD, president of the Aetna Foundation

HARTFORD, Conn.--(BUSINESS WIRE)-- November is American Diabetes Month. The American Diabetes Association uses this time to increase awareness of diabetes prevention and control. According to the Centers for Disease Control, nearly 24 million people in the United States are living with diabetes.1 The good news is that many cases of Type 2 diabetes, which account for between 90 and 95 percent of all adult cases of the disease, can be prevented by leading a healthy lifestyle.2

To stay healthy, it is important to eat a balanced diet and get regular exercise. While this sounds simple, it can be challenging with our hectic lifestyles. Keep reading for tips on how to fit healthy eating and exercise into your busy day.

  • Sneak some exercise into your day

Being physically fit can lower blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol by helping insulin work better. All of these factors help reduce your risk for diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Plus, being in shape helps you feel better both physically and mentally.3 But how can you add exercise into your already busy schedule?

  • Add exercise to your daily routine. If you don’t currently exercise on a regular basis, start with small amounts of physical activity. For instance, take a brisk 15-minute walk in the morning. At work, take the stairs instead of the elevator. Or, have a walking meeting with co-workers instead of meeting in a conference room.
  • Make exercise fun. Any kind of physical activity is exercise. This includes doing yard work, dancing or walking the dog. Choose a few activities you enjoy, and take steps to fit them into your schedule. Find a workout buddy to do a few laps around the neighborhood after dinner. Make bike riding or hiking regular family activities. In the winter months, keep your family active with ice skating, skiing or sledding.

Always check with your doctor before beginning a new exercise program. For people with Type 2 diabetes, exercising can lead to a steep drop in blood sugar levels. To avoid this, people should make sure they balance their insulin and food with the amount of exercise they do.4

  • Eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains

Most Americans eat food with a high glycemic index. The glycemic index is a measure of the effects of carbohydrates on blood sugar levels. These foods include white pasta, cookies and crackers. They are typically made with processed white flour. When we eat these foods, it causes a spike in blood sugar. Eating these foods also tends to result in weight gain since they are often high in calories. Plus, they are often high in sodium and not very nutritious.

  • Cut back on your sugar intake. If you eat a lot of sugar in your diet, try to reduce sugary foods and beverages. For example, instead of soda and juice, try seltzer or water. When the craving for a cookie or piece of cake hits, try a piece of fruit instead. Some studies have shown that the natural sugar in fruit can help decrease sugar cravings.
  • Incorporate more fresh fruits and vegetables into your diet. Eating more fruits and vegetables keeps your blood pressure stable, and gives you much needed nutrients and fiber. Plus, most fruits and vegetables are low in fat and calories. Try to add one or two extra servings of fruits and vegetables into your diet each week until you are getting five or more servings per day.5
  • Sneak more healthy foods into your diet each day. Before having a high-sugar or high-fat snack, reach for a handful of nuts, some low-fat popcorn or whole-wheat crackers. Keep healthy snacks on hand whether you are at home, at work or on the go.
  • Remember these tips when eating out
  • Think of your plate as a pie chart. You should fill up 50 percent of your plate with vegetables, 25 percent with protein, and 25 percent with a starch or carbohydrate.
  • Start your dinner with low-fat vegetable soup or a large dinner salad with low-fat dressing. You will feel less hungry when your entrée arrives. You can also plan to split your dish with a friend. Or ask to have half of it wrapped prior to your meal.

As far as Type 2 diabetes is concerned, the future is up to us. Do what you can today to prevent developing diabetes tomorrow. Be a good role model for your children so they can grow up healthy and diabetes free. For more diet and exercise tips, visit Aetna InteliHealth®.

To find new, tasty ways to make healthy eating a priority for you and your family, try the recipes on the Aetna Healthy Food Fight website.

Read the complete October 2010 edition of the Monthly Health Watch here.

1 National Diabetes Fact Sheet. Centers for Disease Control, 2007.
2 National Diabetes Fact Sheet. Centers for Disease Control, 2007.
3 Why physical activity and exercise are important. Aetna InteliHealth. 2009.
4 American Diabetes Association, What is exercise? 2010.
5 Centers for Disease Control. 2010.


Kate Prout, 215-345-1245
[email protected]

KEYWORDS:   United States  North America  Connecticut

INDUSTRY KEYWORDS:   Health  Fitness & Nutrition  Diabetes  General Health  Managed Care