Anyone can stay healthy, if they put in a little effort. And people with diabetes are no exception.

A healthy lifestyle includes ha- ving a balanced diet, getting physical exercise and reducing stress.

For those with high blood sugar levels, it’s also important to lose weight, reduce stress and seek medical advice regularly.

Although the exact relationship between stress and the risk of diabetes is still unclear, it seems that stress can be a factor in efficient function of insulin in the body.

“The most important thing people with diabetes should be aware of is what it takes to manage their diabetes. The more they learn about their diabetes, the better they can take care of themselves. Staying healthy is as crucial as it is for a fish to stay in water.

“I am sure many people today know that diabetes can lead to a whole host of catastrophic complications. These include amputation, dialysis, blindness, heart attacks, premature death, etc, but here’s the thing – these complications are 100% preventable.

“Preventing diabetes complications requires you to be proactive – eating correctly, exercising, taking medications correctly, getting checked for complications, knowing what medications you are on and why you are on it… there is a lot to learn and do,” says consultant endocrinologist Assoc Prof Dr Alexander Tan.

A balanced diet filled with a lot of fresh vegetables is one of the keys to good health. Photo: TBS

A balanced diet filled with a lot of fresh vegetables is one of the keys to good health. Photo: TBS

Every person with diabetes is different and there is no one size treatment that fits all. But all people with diabetes have problems with insulin.

Type 1 diabetes is an auto- immune condition where the immune system wrongly identifies, and subsequently attacks, the pancreatic cells that produce insulin, leading to little or no insulin production.

Type 2 diabetes used to be known as non-insulin dependent diabetes and adult onset diabetes, but it is increasingly common in children, largely due to them being obese or overweight.

In this condition, the body usually still produces some insulin, but it is not enough to meet demand, and the body’s cells do not properly respond to the insulin.

Whether you are a type 1 or type 2, you should not skip your regular check-ups with your doctor, cautions Assoc Prof Tan. This includes yearly checks of blood, urine, eyes, feet and heart.

Motivation and peer support is often key to achieving good health, but among this group, a large number choose to be ignorant or fail to heed proper advice.

Malaysians are simply not bo- thered by statistics, and this is evident from the country’s worsening health amid widespread public apathy.

Despite the various campaigns over the past three decades, res-ponse to free diabetes screening has been poor, and the ones who do respond often do not follow through with treatment.

Assoc Prof Tan says, “People need to prioritise their health and be more motivated to manage their diabetes better. Once they get motivated, a lot of the other things they need to do will fall into place.

“Women tend to be more concerned and more motivated when it comes to their health.

“Of course, there are lots of men who are just as health conscious, but overall, women in general are better at managing their diabetes.”

A lot of patients get diagnosed accidentally when they head to the doctor for another ailment. Then, they are in shock when making this “discovery”.

“One of the strongest risk factors for developing diabetes is a family history of diabetes.

“If your mum or dad or siblings have diabetes, you need to get your blood glucose checked at least annually.

“Other risk factors include being obese or overweight, having diabetes during a previous pregnancy, smoking and having high blood pressure.

“You also tend to develop a higher risk as you get older,” says Assoc Prof Tan, who heads the Diabetes Care Unit at University Malaya Medical Centre in Petaling Jaya, Selangor.

If you have a risk factor, get regular check-ups. If you’re expe- riencing symptoms such as weight loss, unusual thirst and frequent urination, it could be a sign of diabetes.

He adds, “Usually, by the time you get these classic symptoms, your blood sugar level is dangerously high.

“So, if you suspect you have diabetes, don’t look for symptoms, go get your blood glucose levels tested immediately!”

Most people aspire to live a long, hearty life, but diabetes reduces the life expectancy of a person.

The life expectancy of a 60-year-old with poorly controlled diabetes is six years less than a 60-year-old without diabetes.

“If the same 60-year-old with diabetes has previously had a heart attack, then his life expectancy is further reduced by 12 years.

“The main reason for a reduced life expectancy is heart disease.

“Diabetes, if not well controlled, increases the risk of heart disease by three to four-fold.

“The heart disease that a person with diabetes gets is also usually more severe than someone who has heart disease without diabetes,” says Assoc Prof Tan.

So start changing your lifestyle.

Now.