Diabetes is becoming more common in the United States, and people are developing the disease earlier in life.

The number of children ages 10 to 19 with Type 2 diabetes — once called “adult onset diabetes” — rose 30 percent between 2001 and 2009, according to a study published in JAMA.

At the same time, nearly 1 in 3 American adults has prediabetes. That means their blood sugar level is higher than normal and they are likely to develop Type 2 diabetes. But it might not be too late to turn things around.

Understanding the Risk Factors

Few people know they have prediabetes because there are often no symptoms. But some things put people at higher risk for prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes:

  • Being overweight or obese
  • Having a relative with diabetes
  • Not getting enough physical activity
  • Being 45 or older
  • High blood pressure
  • Having had a pregnancy with gestational diabetes
  • Giving birth to a child that weighs over 9 pounds
  • Being African-American, American Indian, Asian-American, Pacific Islander or Hispanic

Some people with prediabetes have these symptoms:

  • Increased thirst
  • Tiredness
  • Blurry vision
  • Cuts that won’t heal
  • Swollen gums

See your doctor if you think you may be on this dangerous path. Prediabetes, besides leading to Type 2 diabetes, also increases your risk for heart disease and stroke. Eating healthy foods and making exercise part of your daily routine can help you lose weight and lower your blood sugar.

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Walk It Off

Losing just 5 percent of your body weight can make a difference. Set aside 150 minutes each week for exercise. Accomplishing that can be as simple as taking a 30-minute walk five days a week.

To reap the full benefits of exercise, you need more than a leisurely stroll. Here are tips to help you get started off on the right foot.

Start out slowly. If you’re not used to being active, start with 10 minutes of daily walking. Add about five minutes each week as you gain strength and energy.

Work up gradually. Shoot for 30 to 45 minutes of brisk walking a day at least five days a week. Aim for a moderate pace — too winded to sing, but able to talk.

Warm up and cool down. Before each session, warm up by walking slowly for five minutes and doing light stretching. Repeat this process to cool down at the end.

Protect your feet. Wear shoes designed for walking that fit well and provide good support. To prevent foot sores and blisters, be sure to wear padded socks, preferably without seams that might rub against your skin.

Be sure to check with your doctor before you start an exercise program. Your doctor can recommend the type, amount and intensity of exercise that’s right for you. And since physical activity may lower your blood sugar, if you’re taking medicine, ask your doctor if it should be adjusted.

Food for Thought

A healthy diet is an important part of preventing diabetes. If you’ve been diagnosed with prediabetes, you’ve probably been told to avoid sweets to lower your blood sugar. But all carbohydrates can raise blood sugar. And some carbs raise blood sugar more than others. In fact, some carbohydrates raise blood sugar more than sugar would!

If you need to lower your blood sugar, try eating and drinking things that are low on the glycemic index (GI). Your body digests low GI foods slowly, causing a slower rise in blood sugar. These foods include 100 percent whole wheat or pumpernickel bread, rye, barley, oat bran, soybeans, sweet potatoes, peanuts, Greek yogurt, many fruits and non-starchy vegetables. Get more information about the glycemic index and find low GI foods.

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Make a change.

Ready to make lifestyle changes for better health? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Diabetes Prevention Program can help. It offers programs and classes to help you learn how to prevent or delay Type 2 diabetes. And as always, talk to your doctor about what changes are right for you.