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It has been clear that diet, exercise, smoking and drinking have an impact on whether one is likely to develop type 2 diabetes, but how each individual factor affects the risk had been unclear.
"The lifestyle factors we looked at were physical activity, healthy diet, body weight, alcohol consumption and smoking," said lead researcher Jarad Reis, a researcher from the U.S. Division of Cardiovascular Sciences at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
"For each one of those, there was a significant reduction in risk for developing diabetes," he said. "Having a normal weight by itself reduced the risk of developing diabetes by 60 to 70 percent."
For example, eating a healthy diet reduced the risk by about 15 percent, while not smoking lowered the risk by about 20 percent, he said.
The more healthy lifestyle factors one has, the lower the risk for developing diabetes, Reis noted. Overall, risk reduction can reach 80 percent, he said.
"Our results confirm our public health efforts to get individuals to attain and maintain a healthy diet, physical activity, an optimal body weight, not smoking, and drinking in moderation," he said.
The report is published in the Sept. 6 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.
For the study, Reis' team collected data on 114,996 men and 92,483 women 50 to 71 years of age who took part in the National Institutes of Health--AARP Diet and Health Study. None of these individuals had diabetes, cancer or heart disease at the start of the study.
Over 10 years of follow-up, 9.6 percent of the men and 7.5 percent of the women developed diabetes, the researchers found.
However, for each additional healthy lifestyle factor the risk of developing diabetes was reduced 31 percent for men and 39 percent for women, Reis' group found.
Reis noted that it helps to start living a healthy lifestyle at any age. Even in middle age, it will reap benefits in lowering your risk for diabetes, he said. "It's never too late."
Diabetes expert Dr. Spyros G. Mezitis, from New York Presbyterian Hospital in New York City, said that "we have known that lifestyle factors affect prevention, development and management of diabetes."
Mezitis noted that the combination of lifestyle factors can reduce the risk of developing diabetes. "We need to look at these factors and how by modifying them you can really reduce the risk of diabetes," he said.
However, Mezitis thinks changing these behaviors can be hard for people to do, especially without support from society at large.
"We really need to be thinking of prevention early, and we need the help of government and business and others to achieve these goals," he said.
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