Experts say you can help avoid developing diabetes by following just four of the seven.

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Exercise is one of the seven simple lifestyle choices listed as ways to help prevent type 2 diabetes. Getty Images

There are seven lifestyle choices we can make that will reduce our risk of heart disease, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).

And a new study finds that following as few as four of them can also help prevent diabetes.

According to new research from The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, adults who followed at least 4 of the 7 AHA guidelines were 70 percent less likely to develop diabetes over 10 years.

“In this study, we show that basically 76 percent of all diabetes in populations was due to not attaining four or more of these ideal cardiovascular health measures,” Dr. Joshua J. Joseph, an assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism at the Wexner Medical Center and lead study author, told Healthline.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Minority Health, “African Americans are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with diabetes as non-Hispanic whites. In addition, they are more likely to suffer complications from diabetes, such as end-stage renal disease and lower extremity amputations. Although African Americans have the same or lower rate of high cholesterol as their non-Hispanic white counterparts, they are more likely to have high blood pressure.”

In addition, African Americans may not experience equal benefit from following the AHA health guidelines.

Joseph and team found that while 73 percent of white participants showed significant benefit from following four or more of the AHA guidelines, only 66 percent of African Americans in the study did.

The research team discovered that the study participants who already had impaired glucose metabolism (prediabetes) didn’t reduce their diabetes risk.

“We looked for differences in the risk of diabetes for prediabetic individuals and those with normal glucose metabolism,” said Joseph. “We expected to find that, in both normal and prediabetic groups, there would be a lower risk of diabetes by following the AHA guidelines. So, we were surprised to see that in the prediabetic group, there was not a lower diabetes risk.”

Joy Cornthwaite, RD, a diabetes educator at UTHealth/UT Physicians in Houston, explained “Prediabetes happens when a person’s glucose values (blood sugar level) are higher than normal, but not yet high enough to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.”

If you’re already prediabetic, Cornthwaite said, exercise can help.

Research shows that just 150 minutes per week of moderate physical activity and a 5 to 7 percent weight loss is enough to reduce the risk of moving from prediabetes to diabetes,” she told Healthline.

The AHA ‘life’s simple seven’ guidelines consists of:

  • Controlling your blood pressure. Maintaining your blood pressure within a healthy range reduces the strain on your heart, arteries, and kidneys.
  • Keeping cholesterol low. High cholesterol can cause arteries to clog and lead to heart disease and stroke.
  • Reducing blood sugar. Over time, high blood sugar levels can lead to diabetes, which can damage the heart, kidneys, eyes, and nerves.
  • Being physically active. Getting enough exercise helps maintain a healthy body weight, and builds cardiovascular and muscular strength.
  • Eating a healthy diet. A healthy diet reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, and diabetes.
  • Keeping a healthy body weight. Eliminating excess weight reduces the load on your heart, lungs, and joints. It can also help maintain your blood pressure in a healthy range.
  • Quitting smoking. Smoking not only increases the risk of heart disease, but it is also a major cancer risk.

According to American Diabetes Association (ADA), diabetes is a growing epidemic that kills more Americans every year than AIDS and breast cancer combined.

“According to the CDC, 30 million Americans, which is nearly 10 percent of the population, have diabetes, and of those, 7 million are unaware. It’s estimated that 84 million Americans fall into the category of prediabetes and are at risk of transitioning to type 2 diabetes,” said Cornthwaite. “And although the rate of adult diabetes cases has slowed, the rate in children and adolescents has actually increased.”

There are two types of diabetes that account for the majority of cases.

Type 1 diabetes is found in about 5 percent of people who have diabetes. It happens when your body becomes unable to make enough insulin to keep blood sugar levels under control. Type 1 is usually caused by the body’s immune system mistakenly destroying your insulin-producing cells.

Type 2 diabetes develops when your body no longer responds well to the insulin you produce (insulin resistance) and the body no longer can produce enough insulin to overcome this resistance. Type 2 diabetes accounts for up to 95 percent of diabetes cases.

There is currently no cure for diabetes.

Once someone develops diabetes, they need to take medications (such as insulin) to manage the condition.

But Type 2 diabetes can be prevented by taking some precautions with your health.

“Don’t shy away from a self-assessment. If you think you’re at risk, speak to your physician about risk assessment and testing. Ask your physician for a referral to a dietitian or diabetes educator, or sign up for a community wellness class,” said Cornthwaite. “Diabetes isn’t inevitable, even with risk factors and family history.”

“These findings mean that it’s really important for people who aren’t yet prediabetic to do everything they can to follow the AHA ‘simple seven’ guidelines,” added Joseph.