What Should Your Blood Sugar Level Be?
Are you at risk for diabetes? Even if your doctor told you your blood glucose is "normal" you may still be at risk. New research indicates that the upper limit of "normal" blood sugar has a greater influence on risk of developing diabetes than realized before. A few years ago, the blood sugar level for pre-diabetes was lowered to 100 mg/dL. This gives the impression that blood sugar levels less than 100 are "normal" with little risk.
A new study looked at risk of developing type 2 diabetes in more than 46,000 persons who all had "normal" blood sugar levels (less than 100 mg/dL).1 In the next 7 years of follow-up, persons with a fasting blood sugar level of 95-99 mg/dL (in the upper limit of normal) were 2.33 times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those with fasting blood sugar levels less than 85 mg/dL. Even people with blood sugar levels of 90-94 mg/dL were 49 percent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes.
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This shows the importance of keeping blood sugar levels as low as possible for best health and for preventing type 2 diabetes later in life. Even if your doctor tells you your blood sugar level is normal, ask for the actual numbers. If your test results are 90-99 mg/dL you may be at increased risk for developing diabetes in the next few years. This is especially true if you have other risk factors for diabetes including family history, overweight, inactivity, smoking, or high blood pressure. If your blood sugar level is 100-125 mg/dL (pre-diabetes) you have a 70 percent chance of developing diabetes in your lifetime. Taking action early to lower your risk can pay great health dividends.
The best ways to keep your blood sugar level low is to:
- Keep your weight in a healthy range (BMI less than 25). Based on this study, for every 1 point your BMI increases, your risk of developing diabetes increases by 6 percent. Or, thinking positively, in overweight persons, every 1 point you lower your BMI, your future risk of developing type 2 diabetes decreases by 6 percent.
- Get regular physical activity. Aim for 30-60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity daily. People who exercise regularly have improved insulin sensitivity and lower blood sugar levels all day long. Exercise acts similar to insulin to keep blood sugar levels lower. The Nurses' Health Study2 showed that exercisers who walked briskly for 3 hours or more per week cut their risk of getting diabetes in half compared to those who didn't exercise regularly.
- Don't smoke or if a smoker, stop. Smokers in this study were 37 percent more likely to develop diabetes than nonsmokers.
- Keep blood pressure in a healthy range (less than 120/80). For every 5 points your systolic blood pressure increases over 120/80, your risk of developing diabetes is 2 percent higher. If you already have high blood pressure, your risk of diabetes is increased by 51 percent.
- Keep your blood cholesterol level in a healthy range (HDL greater than 45 mg/dL for men and greater than 55 mg/dL for women). HDL is the "good" cholesterol. For every 5 points increase in HDL cholesterol your risk of type 2 diabetes drops by 10 percent. Factors shown to raise HDL levels include getting regular aerobic activity, losing excess fat, not smoking, eating healthy fats while avoiding trans fats, and eating berries daily.
- Keep blood triglycerides in a healthy range (less than 150 mg/dL). For every 50 mg/dL your triglycerides go up, your risk of diabetes increases by 9 percent. Factors shown to lower triglycerides regular aerobic activity, loss of excess weight, and limiting refined carbohydrates and alcohol.
- Follow a heart-healthy lifestyle. Persons with diagnosed cardiovascular disease in this study were 95 percent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes during the 7-year follow-up.
Nichols G, et al. Normal fasting plasma glucose and risk of type 2 diabetes diagnosis. The American Journal of Medicine. 2008;121:519-524.
Hu FB, et al. Walking compared with vigorous physical activity and risk of type 2 diabetes in women. Journal of the American Medical Association. 1999 Oct 20;282 (15):1433-1439.
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