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NIH Research Matters

September 19, 2011

Five Lifestyle Factors Lower Diabetes Risk

A new analysis has found that a combination of 5 healthy lifestyle factors may help reduce the chance of developing type 2 diabetes, even if family history puts you at risk for the disease.

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Diabetes affects an estimated 25.8 million Americans of all ages—over 8% of the population. The most common form is type 2 diabetes, which accounts for 90% to 95% of all diagnosed cases in adults. Diabetes leads to excess glucose, a type of sugar, in the blood. Over time, high blood glucose damages nerves and blood vessels, leading to complications such as heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney disease, nerve problems and amputation.

Previous research has tied several lifestyle factors to a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, but the studies have tended to focus on the impact of one risk factor at a time. A research team led by Dr. Jared Reis of NIH’s National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) set out to examine the combined influence of several healthy lifestyle factors. The 5 factors they studied were following a healthy diet, maintaining an optimal body weight, engaging in recommended amounts of physical activity, not smoking and keeping alcohol use to no more than 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men.

The team used data collected from more than 200,000 adults enrolled in the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study. Men and women aged 50-71 completed extensive surveys in the mid-1990s about their diets, demographic characteristics, lifestyle and medical conditions. They were then followed for 11 years to see if they developed diabetes. The results appeared in the September 6, 2011, issue of Annals of Internal Medicine.

The researchers found that the more healthy lifestyle factors a person adopted, the greater the reduction in diabetes risk.  Men with all 5 healthy lifestyle factors had a 72% lower risk for developing diabetes, while women had an 84% lower risk.

“Not being overweight or obese led to the greatest protection,” Reis says. “However, we found that overweight or obese adults with a greater number of the other healthy lifestyle factors had a lower risk of developing diabetes. This is good news because it suggests that overweight or obese adults can benefit by adopting other healthy lifestyle behaviors.”

The study also found that while a family history of diabetes is strongly linked to type 2 diabetes, people may be able to largely prevent or delay the disease by leading a healthy lifestyle.

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Editor: Harrison Wein, Ph.D.
Assistant Editors: Vicki Contie, Carol Torgan, Ph.D.

NIH Research Matters is a weekly update of NIH research highlights from the Office of Communications and Public Liaison, Office of the Director, National Institutes of Health.

This page last reviewed on December 4, 2012

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