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Small Changes Go a Long Way in Lowering Diabetes Risk

Even a modest change in lifestyle could prevent a vast majority of diabetes cases in older adults, according to a study published in the April 2009 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health measured five lifestyle factors in their study including physical activity, diet, smoking habits, alcohol use, and amount of body fat (based on body mass index and waist circumference).

The researchers followed 4,883 men and women aged 65 and older for ten years. The participants were all part of the Cardiovascular Health Study, a multicenter study sponsored by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute to evaluate risk factors for cardiovascular disease in older adults.

Each person was grouped into a low-risk or a high-risk group for each of the five lifestyle factors evaluated in the study.  The participants filled out annual questionnaires and were given a yearly exam as well.

Over the course of the ten year study, over 300 cases of diabetes were diagnosed among the participants.

The researchers found that each of the lifestyle factors was independently associated with a higher risk of developing type-2 diabetes.

They discovered that diabetes risk was 35% lower for each one additional low-risk lifestyle factor a person had.  Moreover, participants scoring in the low risk group for all five factors had an 82% lower incidence of diabetes

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the prevalence of diabetes has shot upwards in the past decade and today an unprecedented 24 million Americans (about 8% of the population) have been diagnosed with diabetes. Diabetes also affects older Americans more than any other demographic.

Diabetes has been shown to be a largely preventable disease and the results of this study demonstrate that even a modest change in lifestyle can have a remarkable impact on diabetes risk.

Even if you can't follow a perfectly healthy lifestyle, an improvement in two or three of the five lifestyle factors observed can substantially lower the risk of developing diabetes.

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