Lifestyle is key for tackling Type 2 diabetes
Managing Your Diabetes Type 2 diabetes always has a lifestyle element, which means that patients who set themselves realistic targets can significantly reduce the risk of complications.
In both types of diabetes, blood glucose levels rise. The difference is that while people with Type 2 diabetes don’t make enough insulin to regulate levels, Type 1 is an auto-immune disorder which means that no insulin at all is produced.
Though a healthy lifestyle is beneficial to everyone, those with type 1 will always need insulin treatment, whereas those with type 2 can actively improve their condition by focusing on diet and activity levels, says Dr Stephen Thomas, a consultant at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital.
“The key thing is to get a plan going for daily activity."
You don’t need to focus all-out just on weight loss: it’s about setting realistic, achievable targets. Don’t set standards too low – I’d say half an hour every day is a good measure. You can easily get demotivated if you suddenly try to do too much too soon. The ideal is to push yourself a little more each day – walk a bit faster, get to the point where you’re slightly out of breath.
“Some gyms allow local residents free access one day a week: this is very good for exercising in a safe environment and getting some advice. One day a week isn’t going to fix things, but it will give you confidence and motivation.”
Improving the lifestyle will always help the diabetes and the weight in time, while family support and interest can help a lot. He also recommends taking advantage of available NHS health checks, and taking part in healthy lifestyle groups – it doesn’t have to be specific to diabetes – which provide a fun, supportive environment.
"Check you family's history of diabetes"
In terms of diagnosis, Dr Thomas says that family history is very relevant, so you may want to get checked if you have a strong family history of diabetes or if you’re not leading a healthy lifestyle.
“We need to be very careful with those at higher risk of diabetes which may be those with a family history of diabetes or those from certain ethnicities. The main highlight now is that we’re seeing increasing numbers of younger patients, in their 20s and 30s with type 2 diabetes. In London, which is very multi-cultural, even teenagers can present, which is very worrying. I suspect people are becoming less active at a younger age. You may have a pre-disposition to type 2, but there is nearly always a lifestyle element, and the first line of action in most cases would be lifestyle changes.”
There is a risk of long-term complications such as heart, vision and kidney problems – issues which currently cost the NHS a hefty 10 per cent of its budget.
However, “if you do the best you can for yourself and avail yourself of the treatments and care services that are available, total avoidance of the long-term complications is very possible.”