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Get Down to Basics (Part 1)

Jun 13, 2006

Sheri Colberg, Ph.D., FACSM was with us in Washington and we discussed her new best seller, The 7 Step Diabetes Fitness Plan. We were talking about research on heredity and type 2 diabetes and she gave me an excerpt from her book. This week read: Are Your Patients Genetically Doomed to Get Diabetes?

SheriStep 1: Get Down to Basics (Part 1)
Are Your Patients Genetically Doomed to Get Diabetes?

By Sheri Colberg, Ph.D., FACSM


How did you get diabetes or prediabetes in the first place? For me, this question is easy to answer: I had the mumps virus at four years of age and was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes a month later; the virus triggered my own immune cells to attack and render my pancreatic beta cells incapable of making any more insulin. If you have prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, though, the answer may be considerably less clear.

Regardless of how you got it, it’s time to stop making excuses for not taking control of and conquering your own diabetes or prediabetes. In the rest of this chapter, you will not only learn about the first step you must take to achieve diabetes fitness, you will gain a better understanding of the basics you need to know to get started, including the reasons why becoming physically fit is the best and easiest way to effectively control your diabetes, how your body responds to physical activity, why being sedentary is so damaging to your body, and how to exercise safely with diabetes.

Are you genetically doomed to get diabetes?
Maybe both of your grandparents on one side of your family had type 2 diabetes and you’ve decided that you were genetically doomed from the start. Having immediate family members with type 2 diabetes certainly increases your risk of getting it yourself, but it’s by no means a foregone conclusion. If you are a member of certain ethnic groups (African American, Hispanic or Latino, or Native American), your risk is higher to start with as well, but your ethnicity still doesn’t doom you to getting it. Being overweight or obese and carrying that excess fat in your abdominal region also increases your risk, particularly if it’s stored as visceral fat and not just directly under your skin, but as you now know, excess body fat is not as definitive a direct cause as was once believed. Okay, so maybe now you’re down to blaming the food companies for creating too much tasty but unhealthy food and the TV producers for making their shows too interesting. Well, you may have a point . . . but let’s look a little further anyway.

You can’t blame it all on your genes
altAs much as you may want to, you should not simply blame the state of your health on your “bad” genes or some other uncontrollable factor; nor should you resign yourself to having poor BG control for the same reason. By way of example, take the Pima Native Americans of Arizona, who have an extremely high incidence of obesity, insulin resistance (prediabetes), and type 2 diabetes. In fact, since more than half of all Pima adults thirty-five years and older develop type 2 diabetes, researchers had previously concluded that if you were Native American, you were genetically doomed. Recently, another group of Pimas, from whom the Arizona group apparently descended, was discovered in Mexico. And interestingly enough, despite sharing the same gene pool, these two groups differ dramatically in their levels of body fat. The explanation? The Mexican Pimas are physically active farmers who eat a traditional diet of natural foods such as wheat, squash, beans, cactus buds, squawfish, and jackrabbit, while the Arizona Pimas eat highly refined, nutrient-poor foods and have adopted a sedentary lifestyle. And it’s the Arizona Pimas who have type 2 diabetes.

Why all the concern about being unfit?
Currently, physical inactivity and a poor diet are together poised to overtake smoking as the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. Did you catch the key word in that sentence? Preventable. Even if it’s only for the sake of prolonging your life, becoming physically fit is more than worth it—but there are numerous other reasons why it pays to become more physically active. For starters, it can reduce your risk of certain cancers (e.g., colon, prostate, and breast), help lower your blood pressure, prevent or reverse heart disease, reduce depression and anxiety, prevent thinning bones (osteoporosis), reverse prediabetes, and greatly lower your risk of developing diabetes. If you already have diabetes, being active can make good diabetes control a great deal more attainable.

The more sedentary you are, the greater your risk of dying prematurely from myriad causes becomes. Even more important, though, is your increased chance of not feeling good while you are alive. Honestly, would you really like to spend the last twenty years of your diabetes shortened life impaired by diabetic complications? Why risk lowering your quality of life with diabetes when you can prevent it—and other chronic health problems—simply by becoming physically fit?


In two weeks, I will share Part 2 of Step 1 from my latest book, The 7 Step Diabetes Fitness Plan: Living Well and Being Fit with Diabetes, No Matter Your Weight (2006). For the younger generation, I have also written Diabetes-Free Kids: A Take-Charge Plan for Preventing and Treating Type 2 Diabetes in Children (2005), and type 1s and other insulin users, specific regimen changes by sport or activity are spelled out in The Diabetic Athlete: Prescriptions for Exercise and Sports (2001). Information about all of my books, my many articles, my research, and more is available on my web site: www.SheriColberg.com.

Tip for the day: No matter your weight or age, physical activity can improve your insulin action, reverse prediabetes, prevent type 2 diabetes, and control your blood glucose. Just 30 minutes a day of moderate walking three to seven days a week may be all it takes—even if you don’t change your diet or lose any weight.

See more features from Sheri Colberg, Ph.D., FACSM