It’s that time of year again. We are facing a perfect storm that promises to sabotage our good intentions to maintain a healthy lifestyle. The holidays are upon us and with them come gut-busting meals and plenty of libations. If that weren’t enough, the cold weather can deter all but the most hardcore exercise buffs. And don’t forget the late nights of studying when a hot pizza at your door in 30 minutes or less seems a whole lot better than spending your limited time in the kitchen. After a few weeks of eating like this, there’s no question why those jeans feel a bit snugger. However, the consequences of a poor diet and inactivity are more severe than a physique that isn’t quite ready for spring break.
Diabetes is becoming an epidemic in America. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate 25.8 million people are living with some form of diabetes, and this number continues to grow. Diabetes comes in two main types. Type 1 diabetes is caused by a defect in the pancreas and its ability to produce the hormone insulin. Type 1 typically occurs during adolescence, is not caused by lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise, and accounts for about 5% of those diagnosed with the disease.
Type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, is much more prevalent and can usually be prevented. It is caused by the body becoming resistant to insulin. When the body is resistant to insulin, glucose remains in the blood and is not taken into the cells to be used as energy. Factors such as age, obesity, high blood pressure and family history can contribute developing type 2 diabetes. While age and genetics cannot be controlled, it is possible to make changes in lifestyle that prevent obesity and high blood pressure.
Let’s take a look at some statistics and complications that arise from diabetes to help us get some motivation to start making changes. Diabetes is now the seventh leading cause of death in the United States with over 71,000 deaths annually. However, this number only counts deaths directly attributed to the disease. Diabetes is listed as a contributing factor in an additional 160,000 cases, which brings the total count to around 230,000 deaths per year in the U.S. involving diabetes. Diabetes can also cause significant life-long complications such as blindness, kidney disease, pain or loss of feeling in hands and feet, sexual dysfunction and higher risks of stroke and heart attack as compared to people without diabetes.
The good news is diabetes can be prevented without a strict diet or exercising like a marathon runner. For example, one of the easiest dietary changes to make is to put down the soda and drink water instead. Limiting the amount of processed foods containing lots of carbohydrates and fat you eat can make a huge difference in your health, as well. More steps involved in getting the food from the farm to your plate generally means the food is unhealthier. As far as increasing your activity level, a good start can be as simple as picking the furthest parking stall from the store and walking the whole parking lot, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator. It’s pretty easy to see the benefits from putting a little extra time and effort into maintaining a healthy lifestyle can go a long way toward ensuring you won’t spend the rest of your life pricking your finger.
Bryant Schobert ([email protected]) is a Pharm.D. candidate at the University of Wisconsin School of Pharmacy. He is the co-chair of the Wisconsin Society of Pharmacy Students’ Operation Diabetes.