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Prevention: it’s a matter of lifestyle

“Type 2 diabetes is associated with reduced quality of life, as well as complications such as blindness, kidney failure, amputations, heart attack and stroke,” explains Dr Laura Gray, of the Diabetes Research Centre, University of Leicester.

“On average, the life expectancy of people with type 2 diabetes is 10 years less than that of those without diabetes. All this places a considerable economic burden on health systems. It is estimated that around 10 per cent of the NHS budget is spent on the condition and its complications.”

The good news is that type 2 diabetes can be prevented with relatively simple lifestyle changes, like being more physically active and having a healthy, balanced diet.

How physical activity works

Type 2 diabetes develops when the body can’t produce enough insulin (the hormone that regulates our blood glucose levels), or when the insulin that is produced doesn’t work properly. “Physical activity lowers the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by helping the body to use insulin more efficiently, and by stimulating the uptake of glucose into muscles and other tissues,” says Joseph Henson, of the University of Leicester. “Broadly speaking, the more active you are, the greater the benefit. People should aim to engage in at least 30 minutes of daily moderate intensity activity (such as brisk walking) on at least five days of the week. People should also think about their activity levels throughout the day and try to limit the amount of time spent sitting.

The role of diet and weight

“There is also evidence of a beneficial effect of certain dietary changes, such as reducing the intake of fats, especially saturated fats, and increasing the consumption of whole grains and green leafy vegetables, adds Jacqui Troughton, from University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust. “Also, some people may benefit from losing excessive weight. It’s important to set realistic goals. Current guidelines recommend losing five to seven per cent of the initial body weight.”

Looking at risk

Lastly, identifying people at risk of the condition allows targeting lifestyle interventions to those who are more likely to benefit. Risk factors include age, obesity, a family history of type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, among others. Risk detection can make prevention more effective, and also aid in the early diagnosis of the condition, ultimately improving patient outcomes.

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