If you’re at risk for diabetes (and if your belly hangs over your belt, or you spend too much time surfing the Web or watching the tube, you probably are), you know you need more exercise and less junk food. But knowing it — like knowing you should mow the lawn — is the easy part. Doing it takes a kick in the pants. And a new study found that joining a diabetes prevention program could be just the kick you need.
Previous studies such as the National Institutes of Health’s Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) showed that intensive lifestyle intervention programs help people avoid diabetes. But the DPP was challenging and involved highly motivated volunteers, not average Joes. Researchers at Emory University wanted to know what happens when doctors encourage all their at-risk patients to sign up for a program that cracks the whip more gently.
“Diabetes is such a huge problem in this country and really, worldwide, and we need to find ways to reach out to more people and help them reduce their risk,” says study author Sandra L. Jackson, MPH, a Ph.D. candidate in Nutrition and Health Sciences at Emory University. Since almost everyone goes to the doctor at some point, the doctor’s office seemed like an obvious place to start.
A Weight Loss Approach That Works
The researchers looked at data from 400,000 veterans — most of them men — whose doctors suggested, during a regular office visit, that they enroll in a national weight loss program called Managing Obesity and Overweight in Veterans Everywhere (MOVE). In MOVE, no one is assigned specific goals or to-dos. Rather, participants are taught about diet and exercise and encouraged to chart their own course and decide what lifestyle improvements they wanted to make.
RELATED: A Man’s Guide to Losing Weight
And voilà: People who signed up for at least eight weekly sessions over six months maintained an average loss of 2.7 percent of their body weight over three years. The big surprise? Participants who lost any weight at all, or even just maintained their starting weight, had a 14 percent lower risk of diabetes over three years compared to participants who gained weight.
MOVE is for veterans only, but ask your doctor about other programs in your area. The YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program may be one option, says Jackson.
Do It Yourself
Want to get motivated to avoid diabetes on your own? Jackson has these tips:
1. If nothing else, aim to maintain your weight. “Even if you can just prevent weight gain it makes a pretty big difference.”
2. Do something — anything. “There’s increasing evidence that the more exercise you can do, the lower your risk. But even 10-minute bouts of exercise can have a strong influence on insulin sensitivity.” Dietary changes can be as simple as putting less sugar in your coffee and having oatmeal instead of that jelly donut in the morning.
3. Make it enjoyable. If you hate your healthy lifestyle, it won’t last long. “It’s not supposed to be a torturous punishment. You don’t want to prevent diabetes and be miserable while you’re doing it.” Look for ways to exercise that are comfortable and enjoyable, and find healthy foods that you actually like.
4. Focus on what you’ll get out of it. Need more motivation? Imagining the threat of blindness and amputation doesn’t work very well. Instead, says Jackson, “Think about what you want. If you want to live a happy and active life long into your golden years, then taking care of yourself and making healthy choices makes sense.”
More from KnowMore:
Marianne Wait is a writer, editor and book developer who specializes in health. Follow her on Twitter @MarianneWait.