Other Lifestyle Essentials Often Ignored in Type 2 Diabetes
Those of us that do our best to avoid T2 diabetes do our best to eat healthily, do some exercise and hope for the best outcome. Yet we are seeing frightening amounts of people being either diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes (T2D) or told they are at risk or have prediabetes. As it’s a leading cause of blindness, alzheimer’s, amputations, sexual dysfunction and heart disease to mention but a few, maybe we need to look closer at what is contributing to this life threatening disease. We all know to avoid as much of the sweet stuff as possible and to take the stairs instead of the lift, some people go much further and apply huge effort to their nutrition and fitness which does help enormously but oftentimes there’s a bit more to it.
We hear all of the time that it’s a lifestyle disease, people are told to modify their lifestyle but what does that mean?
Many doctors who preach this mantra admit to not being fully clear on what precisely that involves and most confess that they struggle to implement it themselves. Most people take it to mean eat healthier, move more, drink less alcohol, stop smoking. Some think they should start eating low fat foods and diet drinks yet doing that alone can significantly increase their risk of getting the disease. Ironic but frighteningly true.
So clearly help is needed with dietary guidelines and while unquestionably it’s the key part of the formula there are many other pieces of the pie that are not being addressed. Major lifestyle issues which are stress, poor sleep and unfulfilling relationships.
There is significant evidence to demonstrate that all of these issues on their own can raise blood sugars but in truth they mostly feed into each other which further pushes health into a downward spiral. Stress can affect sleep which makes us tired and cranky and can affect relationships with those around us. Relationship difficulties can cause stress and affect sleep. Poor sleep can lead to stress and the cycle goes on. Often by addressing the main issue the others will rectify themselves but ignoring it and hoping for the best can be detrimental to your health.
Let’s look at them separately.
Because our modern lives have become more hectic and demanding, many people live with constant stress or anxiety. It may be one small thing after the next or something big like grief or relationship issues but stress seems difficult to avoid. The result of this is a constant supply of a stress hormone called cortisol which feeds the body with glucose in order to deal with the stress or have extra energy to run away from it if necessary.
Of course in the majority of cases we don’t need to run so this extra sugar is not expended through physical exercise and it turns into fat which is stored in the middle. The reason it goes to your ‘middle’ is because it is close to the liver where it can most quickly be converted back into energy if needed. To add insult to injury, high levels of cortisol in your bloodstream can increase your appetite, causing you to crave high sugar foods and carbohydrates. In other words if you are someone that has a lot of stress constantly bubbling away you may feel constantly hungry or crave less healthy foods.
There’s good reason for it, it’s not in your head but unfortunately it’s doing your body no good. The fat that settles around your middle is the most dangerous fat of all and is strongly associated with increased risk of T2D or glucose intolerance, heart disease, stroke and some cancers. This is why there is a current focus on hip to waist ratio. We all know which one should be bigger!
Sleep restriction or having poor circadian rhythm which happens when you have a poor routine for to going to sleep and getting up in the morning are associated with lots of issues.
Increased hunger, decreased metabolism of glucose and lipids and significant changes in the hormonal signals involved in feeling full are commonly reported. The essence of this is that you are more likely to have higher blood sugars, store fat, be hungrier and have poor signalling to help you to stop. When we are tired we tend to make less healthful decisions and think we need more and more sugar and caffeine to get us through the day. Unfortunately not only is this not true, it is really damaging to our health and can move us towards T2D as well as increased risk of heart disease, dementia and depression which are already strongly associated with diabetes. Shift workers, through no fault of their own can really be affected by this but it is important to be mindful of the risks and to take measures to minimise them.
- RELATIONSHIPS & EMOTIONAL SUPPORT
Two recent studies from the Netherlands have further proven the evidence that already existed around the health of our relationships and T2D. The Maastricht study was titled ‘Socially isolated individuals are more prone to have newly diagnosed and prevalent type 2 diabetes mellitus’. It involved almost 3,000 people aged between 52 and 68 and it outlined how people who report to have ‘negative friend support’ or those in relationships but feel lonely are at significantly higher risk of type 2 diabetes. People are lonelier than ever which is also reflected in the state of the emotional health of our society.
Another recent study involving 2,200 people in The Netherlands found that feeling lonely was linked to a 64% increased risk of developing dementia which is also associated with type 2 diabetes.
In other studies less emotional support related to important decisions and support for sickness were associated with increased T2D diagnoses for men and for women.
So while nutrition and exercise are key in preventing, managing and reversing type 2 diabetes we cannot overlook these important lifestyle factors that command a significant influence in our overall health as well as blood sugar health also.
Here’s 5 helpful tips to address these issues:
- Take some time every day to practise mindfulness or being still.
- Practise being in the moment giving your full and total attention to whatever you are doing in that moment whether having a conversation, emptying the dishwasher or having a walk.
- Aim to get to bed and get up at the same time every day. Allow a ‘wind-down’ time in the evening, try to have a night time ritual so that you get to bed relaxed and ready for sleep.
- Try to get out for a walk as early in the day as possible. This is good for your emotional health but also good for your circadian rhythm to help your body regulate day from night. And you are getting exercise which has a plethora of benefits!
- Spend more time with supportive people that make you feel good. Being part of an organisation like Men’s Sheds, a charity you support or a group that supports you to advance an interest, a hobby or your health is not to be underestimated. Take advantage of all of these opportunities.