Keeping off those extra pounds is an ongoing battle for many women. And it only gets more challenging as we enter menopause.
It’s just the way we’re made. Female hormones tend to promote fat formation. That means our bodies store fat more easily than men’s bodies. As we get older, our metabolism slows, enabling even more weight gain. And as we lose muscle mass (beginning at age 40), body fat often takes its place. As we age, we need to do more to combat these changes.
Why not let nature take its course? Because being overweight — at any age — generally means you have higher cholesterol and higher blood pressure. These increase your risk for a variety of diseases, including this biggie: diabetes.
Prediabetes: precursor of diabetes
Prediabetes occurs when your blood glucose levels are higher than normal — but not yet high enough to be diabetes. Still, your risk of heart attack is 1.5 times higher than normal. (It’s two to four times higher with diabetes.) And long-term cardiovascular damage may already be happening.
According to the American Diabetes Association, people who develop type 2 diabetes almost always have prediabetes first. Without preventive measures, prediabetes can become full-blown type 2 diabetes in three to 10 years. This doesn’t always have to happen. Not when prediabetes is viewed as a wake-up call for adopting a healthier lifestyle.
Many people can prevent diabetes — even if they have a family history of the disease. Maintaining a normal body weight is key.
Why you need a blood sugar test
To protect yourself from developing type 2 diabetes or prediabetes, get a blood test. Blood sugar tests are as important for mid-life women as regular mammograms and bone density screenings.
Prediabetes is diagnosed from a blood test when:
- Hemoglobin A1c levels are 5.7 to 6.4 percent
· Fasting blood sugar is 100 to 125
· Two-hour glucose is 140 to 199 after a glucose challenge
Have a blood test every three years, starting at age 45, so you can track your scores and offset any warning signs of diabetes right away. Start earlier if you:
- Have a family history of diabetes
· Have high blood pressure or high cholesterol
· Had gestational diabetes
· Gave birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds
Lose a few pounds to make a big difference
To prevent diabetes and prediabetes, it’s important to keep your weight in check. Dramatic weight loss isn’t always the goal. Losing just 10 to 15 pounds will help. You can cut your risk of diabetes in half if you:
- Eat a low-carbohydrate, low-fat diet. Special “dietetic” or “diabetic” foods aren’t necessary. Eat mostly fresh fruits and vegetables, whole-grain breads and cereals, skim milk and yogurt, and lean meats. Limit soda, sweets, snack foods, fruit juices and alcohol. Avoid pitfalls like juicing and protein supplements.
- Walk briskly or do moderate-to-intense exercise 35 minutes a day, five days a week. Not a walker? Then swim, dance, lift weights or do other activities that keep you moving. Lifting light weights and doing activities that develop your muscles can boost your metabolic rate and help your body burn extra calories even when you’re at rest.
Do yourself a favor by not hopping on the scale every day. Don’t obsess. Of course you may be slightly heavier after an indulgent weekend or big dinner. Just weigh yourself once a week and track your progress on a calendar or chart. Choose the same day and time every week (e.g., Wednesday mornings).
Set small, easily attainable goals (e.g., “I will walk for 10 minutes once a day” rather than “I will lose 20 pounds”) and celebrate when you achieve them. Set timelines for yourself and build on your successes by adding to your goals week by week.
Lifestyle changes are critical
While there are drugs that can lower your blood sugar, lifestyle changes actually work best — lowering your risk of developing full-blown diabetes by more than 50 percent. They can help to improve your heart and blood pressure, reduce your cholesterol and lower your risk of some cancers – not to mention help you look and feel better at midlife and beyond.