We take our charge to encourage healthy, active lifestyles among women and young girls very seriously. It is critical that we encourage one another to get active and create an awareness of the risks associated with sedentary lifestyles.
One of the greatest risks facing American women today is diabetes. Diabetes ranks fifth for the leading causes of death in the United States. This disease is often triggered by poor diet, insufficient amounts of exercise and a general lack of knowledge on the issue. The prevalence of diabetes is at least two to four times higher among African-American women than Hispanic/Latino, American Indian and Asian/Pacific Islander women.
What exactly is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a chronic disease with which an individual has elevated sugar, due to the body’s inability to make insulin or to use its own insulin effectively. If left uncontrolled, diabetes can lead to several complications, including blindness, kidney failure, heart disease and amputations
There are two types of Diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2. Type 1 diabetes has been referred to as juvenile diabetes and is prominent within children and young adults. About 215,000 people aged 20 years or younger have diabetes. Type 1 is caused by the lack of insulin being produced within the body and occurs more naturally. In most cases, the management of diabetes is uncontrollable. Although typically seen in younger people, an individual’s genetic make-up may cause them to develop diabetes later in life.
Type 2 diabetes is the most common form and is often developed as a result of poor eating habits and sedentary lifestyles, which lead to obesity. Type 2 diabetes is a result of the body not producing enough insulin. Insulin is a necessity in order for the body to use sugar. It is much easier to control and delay the onset and severity of diabetes (if in fact it is hereditary) when engaging in regular physical activity and practicing healthy eating habits. When there is a build-up of glucose and it isn’t deposited in the cells (as it should be), it causes complications. Typically, those with type 2 diabetes have a need for diabetes pills or insulin shots. These forms of medication help the bodies to use glucose for energy.
Who is at risk?
Believe it or not, diabetes affects seven percent of the world’s population, totaling 25.8 million children and adults. Out of this number, approximately 12.6 million are women. In the United States, physical inactivity and unhealthy eating contribute to obesity, cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, which are responsible for at least 310,000 deaths each year.
Minority girls and women are part of the population at the greatest risk for diabetes. Cultural norms associated with the foods consumed and rampant inactivity are the main culprits. Many believe that diabetes arises due to excessive amounts of sugar intake, but this is not so. Obesity is caused by unhealthy amounts of carbohydrates. Fried and fattening foods are just as problematic.
How can we live healthier lives?
Many women are unaware of preventative measures that can be taken to avoid this potentially lethal disease. The answers lie in a combination of healthy diet and consistent physical activity. In regard to diet, limiting the intake of carbohydrates and fried foods is a start. Portion control, combined with more regular consumption of fruits and vegetables and baked and broiled foods serve as a better choice than fried and fast foods. The key to eating sensibly lies in monitoring one’s food intake consistently. People often eat mindlessly, which results in overeating or eating poorly.
Our primary contribution to this conversation revolves around helping girls and women learn to use physical activity as a catalyst for healthier lives. Of course, traditional exercises such as walking, a light jog or an organized sport are easy answers to the get-fit challenge. However, we know that not everyone is moved by these options. In order to find the motivation to exercise regularly and stick with it over a long period of time, one must find an activity that is enjoyable. Yoga, inline skating, water aerobics and Frisbee are all examples of ways to get your body moving. Just as not everyone enjoys the same activities, not everyone has the economic ability to participate in all activities. Use what resources are available to you and be creative with your approach to better health.
Some ways to get active may include
- Use the stairs instead of the elevator
- If you can, walk or bike to your destination.
- Take a 10-minute activity break at work to stretch or take a quick walk or use your lunch break to add some more activity to your day.
- Walk to visit co-workers instead of sending an e-mail message.
- Go dancing with your spouse or friends.
- Plan active vacations – go hiking, biking or swimming and pack your tennis racquets.
- Wear a pedometer every day and watch your daily steps increase.
- Join a sports or recreation team.
- Use a stationary bicycle or treadmill while watching TV.
- Plan your activity routine to gradually increase the days per week and minutes per session.
It is not hard to read between the lines of our predicament. If American women continue to eat poorly and live without sufficient physical activity, we will face an obesity and health epidemic of epic proportions. There is no better time than today to reinvent our lifestyles and begin to reverse the damage that has already been done on a collective and individual level.