Let’s Talk Diet, Exercise and Diabetes
November is National Diabetes Month and a good time to take stock of our health, whether we have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes or are working to avoid it. Type 2 diabetes is a disease that affects the way our bodies metabolize sugar. According to the Mayo Clinic, there is no cure for type 2 diabetes but it can be managed by self-care, including losing weight, eating well and exercising. Diet and exercise are common themes in most "lifestyle diseases." We asked two of our Senior Center instructors, Jill Boyer and Barbara Smith, to answer some questions about those topics.
Q Why is exercise important for people age 60+?
Jill There are countless studies that prove the important health benefits associated with exercise, and it becomes more important as we age. These benefits will help you maintain your independence as you age. The 5 primary benefits are:
- Prevents disease, particularly heart disease and diabetes
- Improves mental health. Exercise produces endorphins, the feel-good hormone
- Improves cognitive function and lowers the risk of dementia
- Provides social engagement
- Decreases the risk of falls
Q How often do I need to exercise to benefit from it?
Jill American Heart Association studies have proven that just 30 minutes of activity each day produces health benefits. This can be done at one time or broken down into “blocks” if that makes it more manageable. For instance, 3 separate periods of 10-minute exercises will also produce results.
Q What are some exercises I can do from home?
Jill The most common exercise is walking. A brisk walk outdoors will increase blood oxygen levels as well as strengthen the heart, but indoors will work as well. Or, sit in a solid dining room chair, come to a standing position, sit back down and repeat. This strengthens the leg muscles and helps foster our sense of independence.
Balance is important, so try standing on one foot. Stand near a counter and use it to help you balance. Hold on to the counter, lift one foot, then see if you can raise your hands a few inches. Repeat on the other side. Maintain range of motion by doing high knee lifts, again using something solid for balance. Try turning your head from side to side. Can you get your chin to your shoulder?
There are many free videos available on the internet that can guide you through home exercises, or you can find videos on the Dick Eardley Senior Center site.
Q I don’t have gym equipment at home. Do I need it?
Jill A gym is not necessary to make these improvements in our health. Gyms can be intimidating to some people! Sometimes it is helpful to have a “workout buddy” to go on a walk with us, or just to keep us accountable. Some people exercise better without someone watching. It is just important that you find the style that works best for you and commit to better and lasting health today!
Q What are some foods that can aid in preventing type 2 diabetes and why are they beneficial?
Barb Eat more plants! Plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans are naturally low in fat and high in fiber. When we eat high-fat foods, it causes fat particles to build up in our cells which interferes with insulin's ability to move glucose out of our bloodstream. So instead of powering our cells, the glucose circulates in our bloodstream and can lead to diabetes.
Q I have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Will it always be a problem for me?
Barb There is good news! In a 2003 study funded by the NIH, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine determined that a plant-based diet controlled blood sugar three times more effectively than a traditional diabetes diet that limited calories and carbohydrates. Within weeks on a plant-based diet, participants saw dramatic health improvements. They lost weight, insulin sensitivity improved, and HbA1c levels dropped.
Q Is all sugar bad for people with type 2 diabetes?
Barb Since sugar causes a spike in insulin levels, people with type 2 diabetes should be careful about their sugar intake. Fiber can help counteract a spike in glucose, so instead of drinking fruit juice, eat the whole fruit. According to Registered Dietitian Lauren Simmons, “Having sugary treats in moderation is okay, and pairing treats with your meals will help keep your blood sugars more level than having a treat on an empty stomach." (See this month's Apple Crisp recipe on page 4!)
Q Are all carbs, such as pasta and bread, bad?
Barb No! The glycemic index (GI) identifies foods that raise blood sugar. Instead of white potatoes, try sweet potatoes. Instead of instant oats, try rolled or steel-cut. Instead of white bread, try a multi-grain bread. Look for higher fiber content and less processing, and when cooking pastas, al dente is the way to go. The faster your body can digest carbohydrates, the more quickly they are converted to sugar, making them higher on the GI.
Q Are there foods that are beneficial for people age 60+?
Barb Yes! Aim for 40 grams of fiber per day. Fiber is only found in plants, so load up your plate with fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans. Not only does a low fat, high fiber plant-based diet help prevent diabetes, it can help reduce your risk for cancer and heart disease.
Jill Boyer has a B.S. in Kinesiology with an emphasis in Exercise Science and is a certified instructor for Active Living Everyday.
Barbara Smith is a certified Food For Life Instructor through the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and the owner of Eat 4 Health LLC.