Working for MUS Wellness and traveling the state talking to people about health, we get to hear a lot of wellness success stories; stories of employees who’ve discovered new physical activities that they really enjoy, people who have lost weight by eating healthy snacks instead of vending machine options, employees who have more energy for their family when they invest time into their own health needs. It’s encouraging and fun to see people discover great health.
We like to focus on positive stories like these, but the reality is that we face many serious challenges in our country when it comes to health. Take a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). On Tuesday, the CDC released the 2014 National Diabetes Statistics Report, which provides updated figures regarding the prevalence of diabetes in the U.S. An estimated 29 million adults in America—that’s 9% of the population—are living with diabetes, and 1 in 4 people don’t even know that they have the disease. An additional 86 million Americans (1/3 of the adult population) have pre-diabetes, with 15-30% of those people anticipated to develop diabetes within 5 years. And the estimated cost of diabetes in terms of medical costs and lost work/wages? $245 billion (that’s billion with a B!) in 2012 alone.
Diabetes is a disease that involves two main players: glucose and insulin. Glucose, aka blood sugar, serves as fuel for body cells. After we eat, food is broken down into glucose, and glucose is transported around the body via the blood stream. Glucose must move from the blood into various cells to be used as energy. This is where insulin comes in. Insulin, a hormone that is released from the pancreas, enables glucose to enter the cells. Think of each cell as a house with a locked door and glucose is standing on the front step waiting to be let in. Insulin is the key that will open the door.
In type 2 diabetes, which accounts for 90-95% of all cases, cells of the body start to ignore insulin (this phenomenon is referred to as ‘insulin resistance’), and without being able enter the cells at a fast enough rate, glucose begins to accumulate in the blood stream. Soon, the pancreas can no longer keep up and blood glucose levels rise. High blood sugar over an extended period of time is harmful to our bodies, causing damage to many organs and organ systems, particularly the cardiovascular system, kidneys, nerves, and eyes. Imagine sharp edged sugar crystals coursing through your delicate blood vessels, especially tiny capillaries–it’s not a good thing to be happening for too long.
Risk of type 2 diabetes is closely tied with excess weight. However, other risk factors including age, ethnicity, and family history are also very important to consider. Even someone at a healthy weight can develop diabetes. The good news is that there are many ways to help prevent and manage the disease, including the following:
• Attend WellCheck and know your numbers – Many people with diabetes have no symptoms until they develop diabetic complications. That’s why it’s so important to get regular health screenings. As an MUS insured plan member, you are eligible to receive 2 free WellChecks per plan year, which includes fasting glucose and if glucose is high, then hemoglobin A1C will also be tested. Hemoglobin A1C provides an indication of blood glucose levels over the last 3 months.
• Be physically active – Exercise can significantly improve your body’s response to insulin, thereby helping to lower blood sugar. Even a 15 minute walk at lunch can make a difference. Check out the latest exercise recommendations here.
• Lose weight if needed – If you are overweight, even a 5-7% weight loss has been shown to significantly reduce risk of developing diabetes. That means if you are 250 lbs., losing approx. 13-18 lbs can make a huge difference.
• Eat a healthy diet – While eating sugar does not cause diabetes, a diet that is high in refined carbohydrates (i.e. sugar-containing beverages, white bread, white rice, candy) has been linked to increased risk. Instead, consume plenty of whole, fresh foods with an emphasis on fruits and veggies, lean protein, heart healthy oils, and whole grains.
• Manage cardiovascular risk factors – Having diabetes significantly increases risk of heart disease, so keeping blood pressure and cholesterol levels within recommended levels is important.
• Take medications according to your physician’s directions – Taking diabetes medications as prescribed can help prevent complications down the road.
• If you have pre-diabetes, act now. A diagnosis of pre-diabetes does not necessarily mean you will develop diabetes. If you make lifestyle changes now, it is entirely possible to reverse the condition and return to having blood sugar within normal range.
• Join Take Control – MUS Wellness offers a free 12-month telephonic health coaching program to insurance plan members with pre-diabetes and diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and/or who are overweight/obese or use tobacco. Participants in the program receive one-on-one monthly health coaching to help you determine and meet health goals, along with copay waivers, and assistance with health-related expenses.