Type 2 Diabetes and Life Expectancy: Healthy Aging Tips
Published by Dr. Venn-Watson
Type 2 diabetes is rarely a congenital condition, and often develops starting in childhood through adulthood.
Because of the effects type 2 diabetes can have on the body as a whole, its presence significantly increases the risk of developing other chronic health conditions.
A type 2 diabetes diagnosis can feel overwhelming and might have you wondering how it will affect your lifespan. The good news is that people living with type 2 diabetes can manage their diabetes with good diet and exercise habits.
Let’s discuss the differences between type 1 and type 2 diabetes, what causes type 2 diabetes, and what you can do to live a long and healthy life with a type 2 diabetes diagnosis.
What Is Diabetes?
The body breaks down almost all foods we eat into a simple sugar called glucose. Glucose is essential to our bodies. Our cells use it for fuel to perform cellular functions and ensure our bodily processes have the energy they need.
When glucose breaks down in the bloodstream, it signals the release of a hormone called insulin from the pancreas. The insulin picks up the glucose and escorts it to the appropriate muscle, fat, and liver cells to be used as energy or stored for later.
For a person with diabetes, the body either doesn’t produce enough insulin or has cells that don’t respond to insulin (a condition called insulin resistance). Insulin resistance can result in blood sugar levels that are too high.
What Are the Types of Diabetes?
There are three main types of diabetes: type 1, type 2, and gestational. Gestational diabetes only occurs in pregnant women and goes away on its own after the pregnancy ends. However, gestational diabetes can lead to a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.
Type 1 Diabetes
People with type 1 diabetes don’t produce enough, or any, insulin. This autoimmune disease where the body attacks its own insulin-producing cells is usually diagnosed when a person is very young (usually during childhood). Because type 1 diabetics don’t produce much insulin, they are said to be insulin-dependent. This means they rely on insulin in the form of medication they take daily to be able to provide their cells with a means of obtaining energy.
Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is the most common, affecting about 95% of people who have diabetes. A person with type 2 diabetes doesn’t produce enough insulin to remove the amount of glucose in their blood adequately. Additionally, the cells in their fat, muscle, and liver often become resistant to insulin, which means they don’t absorb enough glucose to fuel the body.
Cellular resistance to insulin. Researchers are still learning why the cells in the muscles, liver, and adipose tissue of a type 2 diabetic become resistant to insulin — the receptors in the cells that normally absorb glucose to malfunction.
Inadequate insulin production. The pancreas of a type 2 diabetic cannot supply the body with enough insulin to regulate the amount of glucose in the blood. Why the pancreas no longer keeps up with the amount of sugar in the blood is also not well understood.
There’s no cure for type 2 diabetes, but diet and exercise can help someone become less dependent on medication, and can help them manage the disease to live a long and healthful life.
What Causes Type 2 Diabetes?
There are two hypothesized “causes” of type 2 diabetes. Even though research is still ongoing, we know that two factors, obesity and inactivity, almost always precede a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes.
Obesity is a primary risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes. Professionals use your body mass index (BMI) to determine whether or not you are obese. Obesity is a BMI over 30.
In addition to obesity, excess weight in the midsection is also more closely linked with the development of type 2 diabetes. This adipose tissue becomes easily inflamed, raising the risk of insulin resistance. Belly fat lies deep below the skin and can cling to vital organs.
A sedentary lifestyle also increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Because inactivity often goes hand in hand with obesity, the risk of developing type 2 diabetes is higher if someone is both inactive and overweight.
The American Diabetes Association recommends 150 minutes of weekly heart-pumping, moderate-intensity exercise. While it’s true that any movement is better than no movement, when considering which activities “count,” you should aim for more than just a stroll in the park.
A good rule of thumb? Moderate exercise raises your heart rate to the degree that talking is still possible, but singing may not be.
What Is the Life Expectancy for Someone With Type 2 Diabetes?
Diabetes is the eighth leading cause of death in the United States, claiming 100,000 lives each year.
While there is some evidence that type 2 diabetes can decrease your lifespan between five and 10 years, many factors determine this statistic, including the age of diagnosis and how well you manage your disease.
Although there’s no cure for type 2 diabetes, maintaining your health, moderating your diet, and getting plenty of activity can help you manage your diagnosis better. If you manage type 2 diabetes well, you can usually live as long as you would have without it.
Healthy Aging with Type 2 Diabetes
The diagnosis is in, and it’s time to make some lifestyle changes to help you better manage your diagnosis and feel more energized. The benefit of changing your diet and exercise to help manage your diabetes is that it also positively impacts other areas of your health.
Here are six tips for aging healthfully with type 2 diabetes.
1. Get Tested
Type 2 diabetes may not have any recognizable symptoms, so it’s important to get a yearly blood panel that includes testing your blood sugar levels. Getting an early diagnosis of type 2 diabetes is key to managing it well.
If you already have diabetes, talk to your doctor about how often you should test your blood sugar levels. You will likely need to test your blood sugar at least once daily.
2. Eat Healthfully
There is a link between diets low in fiber and high in fat, sugar, and sodium with type 2 diabetes. Processed foods can hide loads of sodium, sugar, and trans fats, which aren’t ideal for a person with diabetes.
A healthy diet should include complex carbohydrates, like whole grains, beans, and vegetables. When you crave something sweet, fruit is a healthier option, especially fruit with low glycemic indexes, like strawberries, grapefruit, pears, and peaches.
Avoiding trans fats and large amounts of red meat can also help you maintain a healthy weight.
3. Choose Low Glycemic Foods
Although glucose is a “natural” sugar, type 2 diabetics attempting to regulate their blood sugar should avoid foods that are naturally high in glucose monosaccharides.
Some foods contain higher levels of glucose monosaccharides than others. The foods with the highest amounts of glucose are honey and dried fruits. Avoiding these foods, or at least using them very sparingly in your diet, can help you regulate your blood sugar levels.
Foods that are lower on the glycemic index (the value used to help determine how much a particular food or ingredient will raise your blood sugar) are better options for people living with type 2 diabetes. These include foods like raw, green vegetables, carrots, citrus fruits, kidney beans, bran, and lentils.
Finding room for 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week may seem daunting, but you can do it! A combination of cardiovascular exercise and resistance training are essential for staying fit, keeping bones strong, and building muscle.
Exercise will not only help you manage your diabetes, it will also help you lower your risk of heart disease, positively impact your mental health, and even help you shed some pounds.
If hitting the gym everyday isn’t your idea of fun, there are plenty of options for staying active that don’t require a monthly membership or a locker room. Walking is one of the most beneficial, heart-healthy activities you can perform that helps lower your blood pressure and regulate your blood sugar.
A study in 2021 showed that individuals living with type 2 diabetes were able to successfully lower their A1C levels simply by walking 30 minutes a day, five times per week.
Looking for something with a little less impact? Try cycling. Cycling helps build endurance and gives you the same cardiovascular and blood sugar-regulating benefits as walking, but with less impact on your lower extremities.
If you’ve already begun to suffer from the pain of neuropathy, or if you have knee or foot problems, cycling can give you the ability to stay active and continue exercising.
5. Take Care of Your Cells
Taking care of our cellular health isn’t a topic we hear about very often. However, our cells are the foundation of our health. Cells make up every tissue and organ in our bodies.
When our cells don’t work properly, bodily systems don’t work how they are supposed to. That means taking care of our cells is incredibly important to help us maintain our health, especially if we’re suffering from type 2 diabetes.
What Happens to Our Cells As We Age?
Aging cells begin to lose their function in three specific ways.
Decreased mitochondrial function. The batteries that charge our cells, the mitochondria, begin to slow down, leaving our cells sluggish and causing them to stop specific cell processes.
Weak cell membranes. The cell membrane protects your cells against intrusion by external stressors. As cells age, the membranes become flimsy and weak.
Poor cellular communication. Cells need to be able to communicate with one another to work correctly. When cells can’t communicate, processes like metabolism (including glucose homeostasis) become imbalanced.
Aging cells can cause our health to decline and lead to age-related illnesses.
6. Stop Smoking
Smoking isn’t a healthful decision for anyone, but if you are living with type 2 diabetes, it can detrimentally impact on your health. The chemicals in cigarettes have the ability to damage your blood vessels, take a toll on your heart health, and increase your risk of developing certain diseases. It can also increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes-related nerve damage.
According to the CDC, smoking also increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 30-40%. For people already living with type 2 diabetes, smoking decreases the ability of their bodies to successfully use insulin and regulate blood sugar levels, making it hard for them to manage their disease.
Aging Healthfully With Type 2 Diabetes
Having type 2 diabetes can be a challenge, but you can lead a full and happy life with a few lifestyle adjustments that can help you manage your disease successfully.
Talk to your healthcare provider about ways you can improve your health and increase your successful type 2 diabetes management.
Eric Venn-Watson M.D.
Senior Scientist, Co-Founder
Eric is a physician, U.S. Navy veteran, and Co-founder and COO of Seraphina Therapeutics. Eric served over 25 years as a Navy and Marine Corps physician, working with the special forces community to improve their health and fitness. Seraphina Therapeutics is a health and wellness company dedicated to advancing global health through the discovery of essential fatty acids and micronutrient therapeutics.
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