Diabetes (Part 1): A Disease with Some Seriously Bad Mojo

Diabetes. More than 30 million people of all ages--nearly 10 percent of the U.S. population--had diabetes in 2015. Although individuals of any age can develop diabetes, the older you are the more likely you are to have diabetes. More than 25 percent of adults aged 65 years have diabetes.

It doesn't have to happen. You largely control your health future and developing diabetes is not a forgone conclusion.

What exactly is diabetes? Diabetes is a disease when blood sugar levels --your physician probably uses the word glucose, which is a specific type of sugar--are too high. Glucose, or blood sugar, is what we use to create the energy that makes us go.

Diabetes occurs when a normal body function, sugar uptake by cells, gets a bit wonky. The pancreas, an organ near the stomach, makes a hormone called insulin that helps the cells--for example, muscle cells but also brain cells--take up glucose, so cells can burn it for energy.

Diabetes--unfortunately--comes with a mountain of potential health complications. It increases your chance for heart disease, blindness, nerve pain, kidney failure, and amputations, especially of lower extremities such as toes or an entire foot.

Diabetes is also a killer and the seventh leading cause of death in the United States.

When you have diabetes, your body either doesn't make enough insulin or can't use it properly. The consequence is that sugar builds up in your blood.

What are the types of diabetes? There are two predominant types--1 and 2: let's start with type 2 because it's the most common.

Type 2 diabetes (formerly called non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus or adult-onset diabetes) probably accounts for about 90 to 95 percent of all diagnosed cases of diabetes. Healthy eating, physical activity, and blood glucose testing are the basic therapies for type 2 diabetes. Some people with type 2 diabetes require oral medication, insulin, or both to control their blood glucose levels.

Type 1 diabetes (formerly called insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus or juvenile-onset diabetes) accounts for about 5 percent of all diagnosed cases of diabetes. Healthy eating, physical activity, and insulin injections are the basic therapies for type 1 diabetes. The amount of insulin taken must be coordinated with food intake and daily activities. Blood glucose levels must be closely monitored through frequent blood sugar testing.

(There also are a few other types of diabetes, for example, gestational diabetes that may occur during pregnancy. If not treated, gestational diabetes can cause problems for mothers and babies but usually disappears when a pregnancy is over.)

The thing about diabetes is that there is much you can do to delay its onset or avoid it altogether.

This brings us back to the Performance Triad. Let's revisit the Performance Triad--sleep, activity, and nutrition.

Sleep is vital for health, performance, and well-being -- and the better the sleep, the greater its benefits. This is why proper sleep hygiene practices (i.e., that promote optimal sleep duration and quality) are important for all adults.

Physical fitness and activity are crucial for Soldiers to perform as elite athletes. But it is equally important for the entire Army family -- spouses, children, and retirees -- to keep an eye on your weight, prevent injuries, and ensure a high level of general health.

While proper sleep habits and activity are factors in helping to avoid diabetes, good nutrition may play the most important role--to avoid diabetes. A well-balanced and nutritious diet is part of the foundation of maintaining peak performance and good health.

Maintaining healthy eating habits will help improve your quality of life as you age, reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, and other debilitating diseases, and protect your immune system. And it can help avoid diabetes.

To assist with guiding Army family members toward a healthier diet, many Army MTFs have a "Move to Health" program that provides comprehensive health assessments and counseling. Medical health coaches and registered dietitians can assist with individual dietary analyses. Other assistance with starting activity programs is available. You should ask at your local MTF the next time you are there.

There comes a time when you face decisions about your health and how you stay healthy. Keep weight down; eat reasonably with emphasis on fruits and vegetables.

Diabetes does not have to be a part of your future. A lifetime of health is your responsibility but also largely under your control.

Take charge of your health. For retired military, good health is a lifetime commitment that doesn't end when you take the uniform off. You can do this.

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