Tis the Season to Get Fit

It’s November! Time for everyone’s favorite food-eating holiday, Thanksgiving. However, it’s also American Diabetes Month. The three types of diabetes are, Type 1, Type 2, and gestational diabetes.  Type 1 diabetes, previously known as juvenile diabetes, is an autoimmune condition in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the insulin-producing Beta cells of the pancreas. This prevents the body from producing insulin, the hormone necessary for converting glucose (sugar) into energy. This damage is permanent, and it is unclear why this attack happens. Only 5% of people have Type 1 diabetes, and it is usually diagnosed in children and young adults.  Type 2 diabetes is also called adult onset diabetes or hyperglycemia. This is when your body causes blood glucose levels to rise higher than normal. This is the most common form of diabetes, with contributing factors such as lack of exercise and being overweight. Lastly, gestational diabetes, which only occurs during pregnancy, results from hormones that block insulin during gestation.  Diabetes affects millions of Americans. On average, 30.3 million Americans are living with this disease. In 2015, diabetes was the seventh leading cause of death in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control, ‘people with diabetes are at increased risk of serious health complications including premature death, vision loss, heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, and amputation of toes, feet, or legs’. 1 in 10 women are living with diabetes, and 1 in 7 births are affected by gestational diabetes. 

Whether you have diabetes or not, you can become aware of its harmful effects and advocate for prevention and treatment.  With Type 2 diabetes being the most common, it is an indicator of the overall health of our nation. Diabetes can be prevented or delayed through exercising and healthy eating.  Treating such a large population with diabetes can put a strain on our healthcare system.  The World Health Organization estimates that by 2030, that number of people living with diabetes will more than double. 

My NHC Florida AmeriCorps position at the YMCA works to prevent diseases just like diabetes. I am in charge of an afterschool program called Youth Fit For Life (YFFL), a program that is designed to help combat the obesity epidemic and educate school-aged children about the importance of physical activity and nutrition.  I create three lesson plans a week that focus on flexibility, strength, nutrition, and cardiovascular health.  I send out these lesson plans to various schools and visit each of these schools every week to teach these lessons myself.  Part of this program requires pre and post-testing, where I measure students’ physical abilities and calculate their Body Mass Index (BMI). I compare the pre and post testing results in hopes of lowering students BMI percentages by the end of the school year. These lesson plans are created to teach healthy habits that will last a lifetime.

A student came up to me after one class and told me she really enjoyed all the healthy habits she was learning in YFFL, another student told me he was actively trying to eat healthier foods at home. Seeing these students enjoying YFFL classes and taking these lessons with them throughout their daily life is extremely rewarding, and speaks to the value of teaching young kids  how to live a healthier life.  Genetic factors play a role in both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, but the latter type is also strongly influenced by lifestyle factors such as physical activity and diet. With childhood obesity on the rise, it is important to teach our children the healthy habits that will prevent them from developing diabetes.

Children are our future, and teaching them how to be healthy is the first step in the right direction. Diseases such as diabetes lower your quality of life and can prevent you from achieving goals in education, career, and relationships.. So this season, look around at your family and friends and remind each other why you are trying to stay healthy.  Encourage healthy eating as a family, and try exercising together.  While it may be the month of Thanksgiving, keep in mind that a healthy diet and physical activity can take you a long way.

This blog post was written by NHC FL member, Kinjal Patel. 

Kinjal serves at YMCA in Duval County as a Health Educator.