With the diabetes epidemic picking up steam -- 1.6 million new cases are diagnosed in the U.S. each year. Some say that by 2020, half of all Americans could have diabetes or pre-diabetes -- you want to make sure you're not part of that statistic.
So listen up! We talk with people every day who have taken charge of their health and seen astounding benefits. They're happier, have more energy, do better at work and have a more satisfying home life, better sex and more fun. And we've said this before and we'll say it again: You, too, have the power to get and stay healthy!
Starting with one or two smart choices every day (no red meat; walk for 30 minutes) and believing in yourself (I can do this!) can be transformative. Then add the following simple and effective ways to make sure your blood sugar levels stay in a healthy range (before eating, 70-100 mg/dL); when they are elevated, that signals pre-diabetes or diabetes. And keep your eye on the prize: a much younger RealAge!
» No. 1: Aim for seven to eight hours of quality sleep per night. Regular readers know our drill for natural, delicious sleep: No caffeine after noon. Exercise daily, but not within about four hours of bedtime. Create a routine that tells your body and mind it's time to wind down: a warm shower, cozy pj's, some stretching (and/or intimacy), light reading and then lights out. Make your bedroom cool, dark and stress-free (ban work and bill-paying, late-night TV and Internet-surfing).
This matters, says a recent report from Harvard Medical School, because getting less than six hours of shuteye per day dulls the insulin-producing cells in your pancreas, and less insulin (insulin converts blood glucose into energy) means higher blood sugar levels.
Lack of sleep can slow your metabolism and translate into a 10-to-12-pound weight gain per year, another diabetes risk. And it only takes four low-sleep nights to make your body ignore insulin's "Hey you, absorb blood sugar!" signals. A recent University of Chicago report points out just four to five hours of sleep per night cuts insulin sensitivity by 16 percent to 30 percent! And just one more sleeplessness glitch: Tired fat cells stop absorbing excess blood fats, which raises your heart disease risk, too.
» No. 2: Learn to manage stress. Chronic tension pumps up stress hormone levels in your bloodstream, which contributes to insulin resistance. This raises blood sugar levels and inflammation -- two diabetes triggers. Reversing this storm feels great. Calm, quiet breathing routines such as mindful meditation and progressive muscle relaxation are proven ways to reduce blood sugar levels.
» No. 3: Dig into greens. Munching just one and a half servings of leafy greens per day can cut your risk for diabetes by 14 percent. Why? The fiber compounds are inflammation-cooling; they come with a booster shot of minerals and a smidge of good fats. A serving is just one cup of uncooked greens or 1/2 cup of cooked. So, say yes to salads; tuck lettuce into your sandwich, have a side of spinach, kale, bok choy, mustard or turnip greens at dinnertime -- they all count!
» No. 4: Know the foods that lower your diabetes risk (and say no to those that don't). A daily hot dog or serving of sausage, bacon or bologna could raise your diabetes risk by 51 percent! But a daily dose of whole grains lowers your risk 21 percent; nuts reduce your risk 19 percent; and low-fat dairy lowers it by 17 percent.
» No. 5: Add strength training. If you're already walking for 30 minutes a day, pat yourself on the back. Now turn more muscles into sugar-burning machines: Strength train twice a week. Your body's biggest consumers of blood sugar are muscle cells. We tend to lose muscle as we rack up birthdays, but we can reverse that trend with a safe, simple strength-training routine (find one at realage.com). Your muscles will keep your RealAge younger as they consume their favorite fuel -- blood sugar.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen, M.D. is chief wellness officer and chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, visit sharecare.com.