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According to a new study involving thousands of older adults, nine of every 10 new cases of diabetes after age 65 are linked to lifestyle factors that can be altered for the better. These include exercise, eating and smoking habits; weight; and alcohol use.

Researchers found that each factor creates independent risk for the disease. This means that making small changes in even two or three areas can significantly help prevent diabetes. Of course, focusing on a healthy lifestyle that includes all five habits is even better. Follow these proven steps:

1. Eat healthier. Study participants who had a lower risk for diabetes followed these dietary habits:

  • Eat more dietary fiber. Fiber is found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and peas. Aim for 20 to 35 grams of fiber each day.
  • Add polyunsaturated fat to your diet. Polyunsaturated fat – one of the “good fats” – can be found in canola and soybean oil, walnuts, flaxseed and fish like salmon or trout.
  • Cut out trans fat. Trans fat is found in many processed foods, such as prepackaged crackers, cookies and pies.
  • Eat low-glycemic carbohydrate foods. These raise blood glucose less than other sources of carbohydrates. Examples include whole wheat bread, barley, kidney beans, lentils and most fruit.

2. Get active. The study found that regular exercise greatly reduced the risk for diabetes. But you don’t have to run a marathon to reap the results. Engage in moderate activities, such as gardening or taking a 30-minute walk, on most days of the week.

3. Drink in moderation. Researchers found that those who drank in moderation actually had a lower risk for diabetes than those who didn’t drink at all. But beware, as overindulging erased the benefits. If you drink, stick to one drink a day.

4. If you smoke, take steps to quit. The health benefits are substantial. Research shows that besides helping you prevent diabetes, quitting smoking can add years to your life – even at an older age.

5. Watch your weight. It can be challenging to drop extra pounds, but reaching a healthy weight can substantially reduce your risk for diabetes. Study participants with the lowest risk for diabetes maintained a waist circumference of 34.6 inches or less for women and 36.2 inches or less for men. Or they had a body mass index of less than 25. According to government guidelines, a BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 is considered normal weight.

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