9 Surprising Diabetes Risks
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9 Surprising Diabetes Risks

Find out if your lifestyle habits are risk factors for developing diabetes, and what to do about it.

1. Watching two hours or more of TV daily

When it comes to preventing diabetes, exercising and eating healthfully play a big role, but they're not the whole story. A growing body of research is finding that lots of little things can tilt your blood-sugar balance from healthy to diabetic. The happy flip side: They're all risks you can do something about. Here, the big nine -- and your plan of action.

1. Watching two hours or more of TV daily
Raises your risk: 14 percent

How: More TV = Less activity. Women in Harvard's Nurses' Health Study who spent this much time in front of the tube were 23 percent more likely to become obese and 14 percent more likely to develop diabetes.

The fix: Limit TV time to 10 hours a week, and exercise. In the same Harvard study, this reduced diabetes risk by 43 percent.

2. Drinking one soda a day

Raises your risk: 83 percent

How: Soda's got extra (empty!) calories, which can easily lead to weight gain. Women in Harvard's Nurses' Health Study who had one or more regular sodas daily gained about 10 pounds in four years.

The fix: Switch to water, diet soda or, even better, unsweetened tea, which research shows may actually protect against the disease.

3. Skipping breakfast

Raises your risk: 30 to 50 percent

How: Not having that a.m. meal increases levels of an appetite-stimulating hormone called gherlin, making you hungrier and likely to eat more -- which can lead to weight gain.

The fix: Have high-fiber cereal with low-fat milk and one-half cup of fruit in the morning, recommends Karen A. Chalmers, MS, RD, an advanced-practice diabetes specialist at the Joslin Diabetes Center at Harvard University. One study of people with prediabetes found that eating high-fiber cereals made their cells respond better to insulin. Consuming dairy products may also cut the risk for insulin resistance by 72 percent.

4. A bout of major depression

Raises your risk: 23 percent

How: Depression may alter your body chemistry in a way that makes you more prone to developing diabetes.

The fix: Take a walk: Just 30 minutes of moderate exercise three times a week improved symptoms of depression and increased the percentage of those who fully recovered, according to research from Duke University.

5. A large waist -- even if you're at a normal weight

Raises your risk: 330 percent

How: Scientists suggest that the fat in your abdomen (aka visceral fat) produces compounds hat make cells insulin-resistant. According to the American Heart Association, women should try to keep their waist size below 35 inches.

The fix: Do 30 to 60 minutes of cardiovascular exercise three to five times a week. "This can melt belly fat better than dieting," says Jill Kanaley, PhD, an exercise physiologist at Syracuse University.

6. Waking up in the middle of the night

Raises your risk: 98 percent

How: Not being able to stay asleep means that you're probably not getting enough shut-eye. This makes you more prone to developing insulin resistance, which can lead to diabetes.

The fix: Avoid caffeine in the late afternoon and evening, and TV and alcohol right before bed. (Caffeine and TV stimulate your nervous system, making it harder to fall asleep, and alcohol can make it harder to stay asleep.)

If these steps don't help, try yoga, suggests Sat Bir Khalsa, PhD, a researcher in the Division of Sleep Medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. In a small study, Khalsa found that insomniacs who did 45 minutes of slow, meditative yoga a day had longer, deeper sleep at night. Shorter yoga sessions may also help, he says.

7. Eating fast food more than twice a week

Raises your risk: 100 percent

How: It can lead to weight gain, especially if you don't make healthy choices. People who ate burgers, fries, and soda more than twice a week put on 10 extra pounds and were twice as likely to become resistant to insulin, according to a 15-year University of Minnesota study.

The fix: Satisfy your craving for fast food with smaller portions: Try a small burger with no cheese, small fries, and a diet soda, says Chalmers. Even better, go for a grilled chicken sandwich with just a dab of honey-mustard sauce.

8. High stress

Raises your risk: 184 percent

How: Stress can interfere with your ability to make insulin and process glucose.

The fix: Take 10 to 15 minutes daily to relax; get a massage, practice some yoga poses, or close your eyes and do some slow, deep breathing. In one Duke University study of 108 diabetics, progressive muscle relaxation and calm breathing lowered blood-sugar levels.

9. Consuming lots of processed meat (like hot dogs and bacon)

Raises your risk: 43 percent

How: These meats are loaded with preservatives that may destroy insulin-producing cells in your pancreas, say Harvard Medical School researchers. When insulin is in short supply, blood sugar rises -- the hallmark of diabetes.

The fix: Cut back: a Harvard study found that women who had these meats less often than once a week had the lowest risk. Eating preservative-free varieties may help too. Brands we've found include Maverick Ranch and Applegate Farms.

Originally published in FITNESS magazine, April 2007.