Fighting Diabetes With A Buddy

The advent of reality TV can lead you to believe that lifestyle changes can only come from intense, professionally led residential programs, surrounded by television cameras and wacky team challenges. Happily, new research shows that modest (and reasonable) lifestyle changes can be accomplished without a starring role on a reality series. And the health impact can be wonderful.

Without some sort of outside help, making lifestyle changes is difficult. People diagnosed as pre-diabetic are particularly good subjects for improved diet and exercise habits, all in an effort to avoid developing full-blown type II diabetes. A small research study at the Stanford School of Medicine and the Palo Alto Medical Foundation Research Institute examined the various approaches to accomplishing these changes and their relative success rates.

A key measure of someone’s success in making lifestyle changes to avoid type II diabetes is a change in their body mass index, or BMI. Although the BMI has its flaws, it can serve well as a measure of relative change in someone’s diet and exercise. In this study, participants had an average BMI of 32 at the start of the program. A BMI of 30 or more is considered obese.

The participants in the research study were divided into three groups. The control group received “normal” care, which in modern medicine does not equate to much lifestyle support at all. It is rarely good to be selected into the control group if you decide to participate in a research study. Be forewarned!

The second group received group counseling sessions led by a lifestyle coach. The third group received a series of instructional videos on DVD. In both cases, the focus was on eating healthier foods and exercising more. Participants learned techniques and strategies for making lifestyle changes that endured, rather than reverting to old habits at the end of the program.

At the end of the 15 month study, the participants had their BMI measured again. The control group had an average BMI decrease of 0.9 over the research interval. The group receiving group instruction from a lifestyle coach had a BMI decrease of 2.2 while the BMI decrease was 1.6 for the DVD group. This equated to an average weight loss of nearly 14 pounds for the coached group, 10 pounds for the video group and 5 pounds for the unsupported group.

What does this mean for us? What if we don’t have access to a lifestyle coach or a series of instructional DVDs from a medical school? The researchers believe that any external support for lifestyle change can be positive. If you are really ready to change your health, get a buddy and support and encourage each other!  This research shows that together you can accomplish so much more than on your own. Get to it!

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