Type 2 Diabetes: Options for staying healthy despite rising risks

As Director of Community Health Services for Piper Shores, Mary DeSalle is always watching out for the interest of residents. One way she does this is by making sure they are eating a balanced, healthy diet and getting plenty of regular exercise. DeSalle’s objective is not only to keep residents looking and feeling great, but also to avoid the onset of a range of diseases that can increase as people age. One of those is Type 2 Diabetes. 

Once known as adult-onset diabetes, Type 2 Diabetes is a chronic condition that affects the way the body metabolizes sugar (glucose), an important source of fuel. People can develop Type 2 Diabetes at any age, however, it most commonly occurs in middle-aged and older individuals.

Why are seniors at risk?

According to the American Diabetes Association, 12 million Americans over the age of 65 have Type 2 Diabetes; and it’s the seventh leading cause of death among this age group. So why are seniors at risk for developing this kind of diabetes?

“There are two primary reasons,” says DeSalle. “As you age, the cells in your pancreas age and become inefficient, which alters insulin production, or people gain a lot of weight.” Weight gain is associated with a range of diseases. In regards to Type 2 Diabetes there is increasing debate about whether weight gain leads to diabetes, or diabetes leads to weight gain. Nevertheless, the fact is that staying fit with a wholesome diet and regular exercise remain the essential keys to vitality and good health.

“Whether or not you have diabetes,” says DeSalle, “if you eat well and exercise regularly, then the cells in your body can use the sugar in your bloodstream more efficiently, and this will allow you to lose weight and feel better overall.”

What are the risks?

Having Type 2 Diabetes at any age is not easy, but as people get older, the disease presents very serious challenges so there are considerable benefits to preventing its onset. “Older people with diabetes run the risk of secondary problems, such as nerve damage, blindness, kidney damage, and the reduced ability to heal from wounds,” says DeSalle. “Surgeries and even dental procedures can become more complicated when you have Type 2 Diabetes,” she adds.

Prevention is key to health

The best means of prevention are the same today as they were in the age of Hippocrates. Indeed, diet and exercise remain at the core of good health, says DeSalle, who recommends the following:

Diet: Focus on well-balanced nutritional meals that include lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean protein.   Avoid any dietary plan that suggests avoiding a certain food group. Moderation is the key to maintaining good nutrition. “All foods break down to sugar to fuel the body,” says DeSalle. The form of the food should also be considered. For example, eating fruit is better than drinking a glass of orange juice. The fruit adds fiber to your diet without adding a lot of sugar. You would have to eat a lot of fruit to equal the same amount of sugar which is in juice.” Today’s meal plan for someone with Type 2 diabetes is counting carbohydrates at mealtime and throughout the day. “This means that enjoying a ½ cup of fruit or a small cupcake is fine, as long as you keep it in check with your overall carbohydrate intake.”

Exercise: Walking is probably the easiest exercise for people 65 and older. DeSalle recommends walking 30–45 minutes a day. “The time spent walking can be broken up over the day and does not need to happen all at once,” she says. Try mixing it up a little with dancing, swimming, or having an outing with friends. Be sure to make it fun so you will continue to exercise.

Never Give Up

DeSalle say she works with many residents at Piper Shores, and she encourages everyone – no matter their current condition – to keep a positive attitude. “People think they have failed if they end up on insulin,” says DeSalle. But by incorporating a healthy diet and exercise, she has seen residents either decrease or eliminate the need for medications altogether.

“I have seen people improve their health dramatically – and I am not saying they did this by training for a triathlon,” says DeSalle, “I am talking about residents who simply started eating well and walking for 30 minutes a day. I have seen residents start losing weight and managing their blood sugar more efficiently.” And that, she adds, is an inspiration.