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In the Know About Blood Sugar: Tips on Diabetes Prevention for Big Stone County

by Riley Madigan

March 2023

For Minnesotans, diabetes is a common health condition. According to the American Diabetes Association, around 100,000 Minnesota residents have diabetes and don’t know it and about 370,000 Minnesotans are living with either Type I or Type II diabetes. Type II, by far the most common type, is preventable and one of the reasons healthcare providers make it a patient education priority.

So what exactly is Type II Diabetes? Diabetes is related to the amount of sugar in the blood and a hormone called insulin. After a meal is eaten, food is broken down into sugar molecules, called glucose, which travel in the blood. In people without diabetes, body sensors note the rising sugar levels and release insulin. Insulin then tells the cells to let sugar inside for energy. However, in Type II diabetes, the body has an abnormal response to insulin’s message. Sugars are left outside the cells and sugar levels in the blood rise, creating a condition called insulin resistance.

Insulin resistance is caused by being overweight, unhealthy eating choices, and less than an ideal amount of exercise. Additionally, experts think insulin resistance is the link between diabetes and its serious health outcomes of kidney disease, blindness, and stroke. Before diabetes is diagnosed, insulin resistance has already started leading to a condition called prediabetes. Prediabetes is when blood sugar levels are high but not yet high enough for the official diagnosis of diabetes.

How can insulin resistance be stopped and the number of Minnesotans with prediabetes and Type II diabetes decreased in the future? Repeatedly, doctors recommend new lifestyle choices such as eating a well-rounded diet and getting proper exercise. Doctors also recognize that for many patients, starting the journey to healthier lifestyle choices can be overwhelming. Patients should know that many have come before them, faced the same challenges, and with determination have been successful in implementing those changes.

When it comes to diet, the two biggest takeaways are: making small changes in what is consumed and portion control. Instead of alcohol or soda, try unsweetened tea. Instead of eating three favorite snacks, eat just one. In regards to exercise, research has shown that blood sugars start going down with that first walk. Starting with 10 minutes of walking once per day is plenty, and doesn't sound so bad, right? Once that has become a habit, increase by five minutes per day until reaching the recommended goal of 150 minutes per week.

Experts have also discovered that tracking of new lifestyle adjustments is a strong motivator to keep up the changes. It’s as simple as using a pen and paper to record what is eaten and the amount of exercise accomplished each day. If smartphone apps are more convenient, those work great too. For many, tracking progress gives a sense of accomplishment and provides motivation to continue the healthy diet and exercise changes.

Research proves that people most successful at maintaining lifestyle changes are those who identify a personal reason for why they want to make those changes in the first place. For some patients, it may be living a longer life to spend more time with loved ones. Others are motivated to stay with their changes because they recognize how much better they feel because of these changes. Prepare for the long haul: Lifelong changes don’t happen overnight.

Physicians encourage visiting annually to screen for prediabetes and diabetes. If detected, reducing diabetic complications can start with these simple changes in diet and exercise. Keys are to start small, record progress, and understand the motivation behind making these changes. Most important is to remember that small changes can lead to big differences for better health.

This article also appeared in the March 7, 2023 issue of the Ortonville Independent.

About the Author

Riley Madigan is a third-year medical student at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine & Health Sciences. As a participant in the Center for Rural Health's Targeted Rural Health Education (TRHE) project, Madigan has written this column because of her interest in understanding the role of the local newspaper in bringing medical information to the Ortonville community. The information is not for diagnosis or treatment and should not be used in place of previous medical advice provided by a licensed practitioner.