By now, most of us are aware that engaging in regular exercise and eating a healthy, balanced diet are the two best ways to prevent type 2 diabetes, not to mention a host of other diseases. But even so, we’re still seeing the number of cases rise, not fall.
Granted, making major lifestyle changes can be hard. If you’ve never exercised, the thought of increasing your activity can be daunting. And if you’re a chocolate lover, giving it up may seem impossible.
Fortunately, research shows that taking even small, baby steps toward a healthy lifestyle can have a greater impact than you’d think. In fact, something as straightforward (and cheap) as drinking more water can reduce your risk of diabetes.
In a study released in October 2015, researchers evaluated the dietary and lifestyle habits of 138 participants via online surveys. They determined that drinking plain water was “significantly negatively correlated with type 2 diabetes risk score.” (Risk scores are tools designed to calculate risk, based on a variety of factors.)
Furthermore, the researchers found that for every one cup of water consumed per day, risk score went down by 0.72 points.
These findings back up earlier research that came to a similar conclusion. In that study, scientists followed 3,615 people for nine years. A total of 565 people developed diabetes. After adjusting for factors such as consumption of alcohol and sugar drinks, as well as exercise, they discovered that those who drank the most water had about a 30 percent lower risk of diabetes compared to those who drank the least.
Researchers still aren’t totally clear on how exactly water slashes diabetes risk. One theory points to water playing a role in blood sugar control, thanks to vasopressin, a hormone that regulates water retention. Vasopressin levels rise when the body is dehydrated. This prompts the kidneys to retain water and the liver to produce insulin. Over time, this cycle can cause blood sugar imbalances that lead to diabetes.
While more research will need to be conducted to confirm mechanisms of action, one thing is clear: You must make sure you are giving your body the water it needs to function properly.
Up Your Water Intake
For years, the general recommendation for water intake was eight cups per day. An easy way to tell if you’re hydrated enough is to look at the color of your urine. Ideally, it should be clear or a light yellow. If it is a deeper shade of yellow or amber, you’re probably not drinking enough water.
Here are some tips to help boost your water intake:
Make it routine. You probably already have a morning or evening routine. Adding water to part of your established rituals is a surefire way to make sure you’re getting at least one to two extra cups per day.
Carry a water bottle at all times. Just having it next to you should serve as ample reminder to take sips throughout the day.
Spice up your water. Some people don’t mind that water has no flavor, but others find it desperately boring. If you fall into the latter category, adding some lemon, orange, grapefruit, kiwi, cucumber or other fruit creates a delicious “infused” beverage that should please your taste buds.
“Eat” water. Certain fruits and vegetables have high water content, making them ideal snacks to aid in hydration. The best options include cucumbers, celery, bell peppers, watermelon, strawberries, grapefruit, grapes, zucchini and broccoli. Be aware that cooking or heating often removes water, so it’s best to eat these raw.
Remember, for diabetes and overall disease prevention, your end goal should be to permanently adopt a lifestyle where physical activity and healthy diet are mainstays. But taking a small step such as drinking more water is a great place to start—and may help motivate you to make bigger changes in the long term.