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Are You At Risk for Type 2 Diabetes?

12 Diabetes Risk Factors

1 / 13 Are You At Risk for Type 2 Diabetes?

Nearly 26 million Americans have diabetes, a metabolic disorder that results in too much glucose (sugar) in your blood. While you can't change some of the 12 common risk factors of diabetes (e.g., your family history, age, and ethnicity), you can control most other diabetes risk factors. Here's how.

Risk Factor #1: You're a Couch Potato

2 / 13 Risk Factor #1: You're a Couch Potato

A sedentary lifestyle is one of the biggest diabetes risk factors. Recent studies link too much sitting—whether at your desk at work or on the couch in front of the TV—with higher diabetes risk. Getting regular exercise may be one of the most important things to do to prevent diabetes. Why is activity so good? Regular exercise takes glucose out of your bloodstream and sends it to your muscles, where it's burned up as energy. That helps keep your blood sugar level steady. Exercise also helps prevent other diabetes risk factors, including weight gain, stress, and insomnia.

Risk Factor #2: You Have Belly Fat

3 / 13 Risk Factor #2: You Have Belly Fat

Skyrocketing rates of diabetes are directly linked to America's burgeoning waistline. More than 85 percent of people with type 2 diabetes are overweight, according to the National Institutes of Health. It's not clear why being overweight boosts diabetes risk, but experts suspect extra pounds—especially belly fat—make body cells resist the hormone insulin, which carries glucose in the blood to cells to use as energy. When you develop insulin resistance, cells can't take up the glucose, resulting in high blood sugar levels.

Risk Factor #3: You Haven't Had a Glucose Test

4 / 13 Risk Factor #3: You Haven't Had a Glucose Test

Knowledge is power, which is why regular screenings are so important. A simple blood test can show if your blood glucose is rising or if you have prediabetes (when blood sugar levels are slightly elevated but not high enough to qualify as diabetes). Prediabetes affects about 79 million people in the U.S. "When people learn they have prediabetes, I tell them they're extremely lucky," says Betul Hatipoglu, MD, an endocrinologist at Cleveland Clinic. "It's an opportunity for them to make changes so they can reverse the disease." Get a blood glucose test every one to three years, depending on whether you have other risk factors.

Risk Factor #4: You Don't Get Enough Sleep

5 / 13 Risk Factor #4: You Don't Get Enough Sleep

Skimping on sleep is exhausting and makes you grumpy. Even worse, it causes your body to secrete extra stress hormones that lead to insulin resistance and weight gain, Dr. Hatipoglu says. "People who don't sleep enough at night are also hungrier because they have more ghrelin, a hormone that make you eat more," she says. Aim for 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night. If your partner says you snore, and you don't wake up refreshed, see your doctor. You may have sleep apnea, a breathing disorder during sleep that can boost your diabetes risk.

Risk Factor #5: You Eat a Bad Diet

6 / 13 Risk Factor #5: You Eat a Bad Diet

For many people, a bad diet boosts their diabetes odds. Most Americans eat few fruits and vegetables, which puts them at risk for many health problems, including diabetes. In fact, one survey found that fewer than half of Americans eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables most days of the week. Of particular benefit are leafy greens, such as spinach, kale, and collard greens. One analysis found that eating slightly more than one serving of leafy greens a day (about 1 cup raw greens) can lower diabetes risk by 14 percent.

Risk Factor #6: You Live with Stress

7 / 13 Risk Factor #6: You Live with Stress

Managing a busy to-do list and crazy work hours isn't just stressful. It also increases diabetes risk. Chronic stress causes your body to release extra stress hormones, such as cortisol. In turn, that causes insulin resistance, which makes blood sugar levels climb. Stress also contributes to other diabetes risk factors, including depression, a bad diet, and poor sleep, Hatipoglu says. Manage stress with relaxation techniques, such as yoga and meditation. Spend time with friends or enjoy a nightly sitcom for some laughter.

Risk Factor #7: You Guzzle Sugary Drinks

8 / 13 Risk Factor #7: You Guzzle Sugary Drinks

Many people enjoy an occasional soda with their pizza, but drinking too many sugar-sweetened beverages—including juices, energy drinks, sweetened ice tea, and coffee drinks—packs on pounds that can lead to obesity and diabetes. Experts suspect sugar-sweetened drinks alter the body's ability to use insulin efficiently, causing blood sugar levels to rise. A better choice? Sip water instead.

Risk Factor #8: You Have Hypertension

9 / 13 Risk Factor #8: You Have Hypertension

Nearly one in three Americans has high blood pressure, or hypertension, a state in which your blood pressure levels are above 140/90. High blood pressure means your heart is working harder than it should to pump blood throughout your body. Hypertension doesn't cause diabetes, Hatipoglu says, but high blood pressure is often a sign of diabetes. The good news is many of the same steps that can help you prevent diabetes (e.g., exercising and eating right) can also stave off or lower high blood pressure.

Risk Factor #9: You're Depressed

10 / 13 Risk Factor #9: You're Depressed

Depression can do more than make you sad, irritable, or lose interest in activities you once enjoyed. It can also increase your diabetes risk by 60 percent. How? People who are depressed often don't exercise and may eat poorly, both of which boost your odds of developing diabetes. Research also links depression with hormonal changes that can raise your risk for obesity and diabetes. If you suspect you have depression, talk to your doctor about treatment, which may include medication, therapy, or a combination of both.

Risk Factor #10: You're Getting Older

11 / 13 Risk Factor #10: You're Getting Older

As if having more wrinkles and gray hairs isn't enough, middle age also means a higher diabetes risk. Diabetes is more common after the age of 45, when your metabolism slows, you start to lose muscle mass, and your weight creeps up. That's why it's even more important to keep up healthy habits and get screened for diabetes every three years after the age of 45.

Risk Factor #11: Your Family Has Diabetes

12 / 13 Risk Factor #11: Your Family Has Diabetes

Diabetes loves families! It's true that genetics play a role in your diabetes risk. If you have a parent or sibling with diabetes, especially type 2 diabetes, your odds are significantly higher. For example, if one twin has type 2 diabetes, the other has a 3 in 4 chance of developing it, too. However, the American Diabetes Association notes that heredity isn't destiny. While you may be genetically predisposed to diabetes, healthy habits, such as watching your weight and exercising, can delay or even prevent diabetes.

Risk Factor #12: Your Race or Ethnicity

13 / 13 Risk Factor #12: Your Race or Ethnicity

People of some races or ethnic groups have a higher diabetes risk than the general population. Are you African American, Asian American, Hispanic, American Indian, or Pacific Islander? Depending on your background, your risk of type 2 diabetes can be up to 77 percent higher than it is for your Caucasian friends. You can't change your race or ethnicity, but you can control other diabetes risk factors, such as weight, diet, stress, and sleep. Ask your doctor how often you should be tested for diabetes.

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