How to Spot an Overuse Injury

You might notice soreness or discomfort at first in your neck, arms, wrist, fingers or shoulders. Then perhaps you develop tingling, or have difficulty doing everyday tasks like opening a jar. These symptoms could indicate Occupational Overuse Syndrome.


Occupational Overuse Syndrome (OOS) is also sometimes called Repetitive Strain Injury or RSI. It is a type of injury common to fingers, hands, wrists and elbows that is caused by repetitive movements or awkward postures.

Repetitive manual tasks such as working on a keyboard, working on an assembly line, or even playing a musical instrument can overwork and inflame vulnerable tendons. Symptoms include pain, weakness, swelling, numbness and restricted mobility of the joint.

We usually associate OOS with repetitive hand movements such as typing, but any part of the body can be affected, including the tendons and muscles of the fingers, hands, wrists, elbows, shoulders, back and neck.

Who is most at risk?

Any job that calls for fast and repetitive movements, or one where you have to work in fixed or awkward postures for long periods of time can trigger OOS. People who work with their hands are most at risk, with occupations most affected including:

  • Office workers – including anyone who uses a keyboard and those doing clerical duties
  • Process workers – working on an assembly line and packing
  • Piece workers – such as people working in the clothing industry
  • Manual workers – such as bricklayers and carpenters

Performing repetitive manual tasks will put stress on your body. But so too will poor workplace design and poor work practices, such as furniture, tool or equipment that aren’t comfortable for you; benches or workstations that are too high, too low, or too far from your body; machinery that is too fast for user comfort; tight deadlines that mean you don’t take sufficient breaks; and a workspace design that means you have to repeatedly bend, stretch or twist.

Don’t ignore OOS

Your OOS will not go away by itself. Over time the discomfort and pain are likely to get worse without treatment. See your doctor for treatment, advice and a referral to an appropriate specialist. Also tell your manager, as there may be adjustments you can make to your workplace, such as using ergonomically designed furniture and equipment, varying your work tasks, and scheduling work to include frequent breaks.

How to Stop Stress from Affecting Your Health

Worrying about your health. Concern over your job and finances. Anxiety for your children. Stress can impact your entire body, so learn some quick ways to reduce it.

Would you know if you were stressed? It sounds a simple enough question. You’d feel it wouldn’t you? Worry, anger, anxiety – these are some of the more familiar signs of stress. But stress can also affect your body in more surprising ways, thanks to your body’s stress hormones.

Whatever the cause of stress, everyone responds in a similar way, a way we’ve done for thousands of years, explains Kate Harkness, Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry and Director of the Mood Research Laboratory, Queen’s University, Ontario.

When animals or humans perceive a threat in their environment the adrenal glands release the hormone cortisol and adrenaline, she says. These work to pump oxygen to the major muscles to enable us to fight or escape the perceived danger (the ‘fight or flight’ response). This response produces physical symptoms such as heart palpitations and chest tightness, as the heart pumps oxygen to the muscles; and stomach butterflies, nausea and tingling, as blood leaves the stomach and extremities to reach the major muscles.

Your body doesn’t know the difference between immediate, life-threatening stress, and the slow-burn type of stress we more commonly experience. All it knows is that it needs to release stress hormones because your body is sensing a threat in your environment.


Your body on stress

Cortisol is a potent anti-inflammatory that helps repair wounds and fight infection – useful if you’ve been in a situation that caused injury. But in the long term the cells in your immune system becomes less sensitive to the anti-inflammatory effects of cortisol, and as a result, explains Professor Harkness, all that extra cortisol can start to increase inflammation and affect your immune system. That’s why you’re more likely to pick up infections and viruses after a long period of stress.

Stress can impact your body in other ways too. Without taking steps to reduce or relieve your stress you can experience:

  • Headaches
  • Muscles aches and pains
  • Fatigue and insomnia
  • Digestive problems
  • High blood pressure
  • High blood sugar
  • Weight gain, mostly around the midsection and upper back
  • Memory and concentration difficulties

As important as the stress response is when we are in a threatening situation, it’s just as important that we learn ways to lower it when we’re faced with everyday problems.


3 ways to lower stress hormones

Even small, positive changes can have strong stress-reducing effects, says Professor Harkness.

  • Get active. Exercise reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, as well as stimulating the production of mood elevating endorphins. Choose a leisurely walk, yoga session, a run, swim, or play a sport.
  • Breathe. Simple breathing exercises can help reduce stress. Breathe in lowly and deeply, hold your breath briefly, and exhale slowly, thinking ‘relax’. Repeat the sequence five to 10 times.
  • Laugh. Researchers have shown that this natural medicine can improve your mood, lower cortisol, strengthen your immune system, relax your muscles, and combat stress. Listen to a funny podcast, watch amusing YouTube videos, have a laugh with friends, or tune into your favourite comedy show.

Sleep, interrupted

You know when you feel sleepy. You may even describe yourself as tired all the time. But regular sleepiness can tip over into something far more dangerous if you have a condition called obstructive sleep apnoea.

We all have the occasional poor night’s sleep, waking up feeling sluggish and tired. During the day we may lack energy, find it hard to concentrate or notice a low mood. But people who have obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) can experience these feelings every day.

Nearly one billion people globally have OSA, making it one of the most common sleep disorders. The health and financial costs are high. According to Australia’s Sleep Health Foundation, OSA not only disturbs your sleep, it’s a stress on your body.

There is strong evidence that people with untreated moderate to severe OSA have other health problems, says the Sleep Health Foundation. These include increased risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, diabetes, and depression. Thinking is less clear, mood is affected, and productivity at work and at home suffer. OSA also increases the risk of motor vehicle and workplace accidents by six to seven times.

With a recent study in the Lancet estimating almost one billion people are affected by sleep apnoea, it is not hard to imagine that the financial costs associated with this are high, including health care costs, lost productivity and other financial impacts.


What is OSA?

OSA is more than just bad snoring. If you have OSA the walls of your throat relax and narrow during sleep, interrupting normal breathing. Your airway can partially or completely close, which means your breathing often stops for a short time, even for up to a minute. You’ll wake for a few seconds to open your airway, perhaps snort and gasp, then drift back to sleep again, often without realising you’ve woken up. This can happen hundreds of times a night. OSA is classified as mild, moderate or severe depending on how many times your sleep is interrupted during an hour.


What are the signs of OSA?

Loud snoring is a very common symptom of OSA (so loud your bed partner might complain that it’s intolerable), as is waking during the night choking or gasping for air. You may wake in the morning feeling unrefreshed, experience morning headaches, a dry mouth or a sore throat. Daytime tiredness is common, as is difficulty concentrating, and you may notice your work quality suffering as you experience reduced alertness.

Your mood can be affected when you have OSA – it’s common to feel more irritable, depressed and anxious after unrefreshing sleep, and to lose your sex drive. Rapid weight gain or difficulty losing weight can also result from untreated OSA. But these symptoms can come and go, and many people remain unaware that they have the condition, or don’t realise that it is serious.


Who gets OSA?

While OSA mainly affects men, women can have it too, particularly after menopause. OSA was reportedly a contributing factor behind the death of actress Carrie Fisher in 2016. Sleep apnoea can even affect children. Aside from being male, there are other factors that increase your risk, including:

  • Being overweight, in particular having excess fatty tissue around the neck, which can cause a narrowing of the throat. However OSA can also occur in people who aren’t overweight.
  • Having a large neck circumference (>43cm for men; >40cm for women).
  • Being middle aged and older.
  • Smoking – smokers are three times more likely to have sleep apnoea than non-smokers.
  • Excess alcohol consumption, particularly at night. Alcohol can relax the muscles in your throat, closing the upper airway. Sleeping pills can have a similar effect.


First, get a diagnosis

Don’t attempt to self-diagnose sleep apnoea. First see your doctor, who can refer you to a sleep specialist if necessary, who may recommend a sleep study. That way you’ll find out if you have sleep apnoea, whether it’s mild, moderate or severe, and what treatment would be most appropriate for you.


What you can do to reduce your risk

According to the Sleep Health Foundation, for people with a mild level of OSA and few symptoms, losing weight, decreasing the amount of alcohol consumed in the evening and adjusting their sleeping position may be all that is needed. (Most people have more OSA episodes if they sleep on their backs).

Of course, losing weight is easier said than done. But losing just 10 per cent of your body weight can have a big effect on sleep apnoea symptoms. Ask your doctor for a referral to a dietitian who can help make achievable adjustments to your diet and physical activity to aid weight loss.

A simple solution to help you sleep on your side that you can do yourself is to place a tennis ball into a pocket sewn onto the back of your pyjamas, making it uncomfortable to sleep on your back. You can buy more sophisticated versions of this – chest belts with back pockets that hold inflatable bumpers, or electronic devices that buzz or vibrate when you lie on your back.

If you have moderate or severe sleep apnoea, other treatment may be needed in addition to weight loss. These include:

  1. CPAP. The first line treatment for OSA is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). This is where the patient wears a mask and sufficient air is blown into the mask to prevent airway closure during sleep. CPAP is highly effective in reducing sleep-related breathing disturbances and millions of people worldwide have had their lives changed by CPAP therapy.
  2. Dental appliances. For some people an oral appliance (mandibular advancement device) fitted by a specialist dentist can hold the jaw forward during the night, helping to keep the airway open.
  3. Drug therapy. Researchers are trialling new drug therapies which aim to open up the airways and improve sufferers’ sleep.

Director Professor Danny Eckert says that a range of issues means OSA is often untreated. “New treatments are urgently needed,” he says, “and we’re aiming to use and develop novel approaches to identify the causes of OSA on a per patient basis, improve current therapies and management approaches and test if new targeted therapies can be used to treat OSA.”

Better Choices When You’re Feeling Stressed

Our world is filled with things that cause stress. Whether it’s money worries, a bad day at work, health anxiety, family conflict, or even boredom, stress causes us to respond in ways that aren’t necessarily good for us. What do you do to feel better, and are there more helpful solutions?

Your stress habit: the daily drink

An occasional alcoholic drink to calm your nerves isn’t going to do you any harm. But drowning your stress in a bottle of wine isn’t doing your body any favours in the long term.

We know that alcohol is linked to a wide range of disease including cancer, liver disease and heart disease. Alcohol can also be damaging to your emotional health, especially if you already experience depression or anxiety.

And if you drink before bed, your sleep quality may not improve, says the Sleep Health Foundation. While you may fall asleep quickly after drinking, alcohol is associated with waking in the night, night sweats, nightmares, and headaches. And without sufficient rest, you’re less able to handle stress.

The solution: Tempted to reach for the beer or wine? Get out of the habit and explore non-alcoholic options. If you want the taste of an alcoholic drink, try non-alcoholic wines, distilled spirits and beer. You’d be in good company. According to a DrinkWise study, more and more of us are saying no to alcoholic drinks with 20 per cent of us abstaining from drinking in 2017.

Make a note of when you’re reaching for a drink. If it’s early evening after a stressful day, taking time out for yourself, even as little as 10 to 15 minutes (for a walk, meditation, quiet read, quick workout or listening to music) can work to calm your mind and reduce your stress.

Your stress habit: comfort eating

There’s nothing like a period of stress to throw your good eating intentions out of the window. Since we were children, we’ve known how effective food can be to comfort us during difficult times. The problem of course, is the kind of foods we turn to. Anxious, worried, lonely or bored? It’s easy to reach for sweet or salty snacks or a bowl of ice cream.

But don’t be too hard on yourself. Making bad food choices from time to time is something we all do, and it doesn’t mean you’ve abandoned your healthy eating habits. Emotional eating is only really a problem when it’s your only coping mechanism. Once you’ve acknowledged that your choices aren’t doing you any favours health-wise, you can start making some switches.

The solution: If it is comfort you’re after, sometimes a hot drink can be what you need. A cup of tea, a low-calorie hot chocolate or a miso soup may work as a pick-me-up. Take a brief time-out too if you can – maybe listen to music or a podcast, go for a short walk, or read a few chapters of a novel.

Are you after the satisfying crunch of salty chips? Opt for a small handful of unsalted nuts instead, and throw in a few tamari almonds or wasabi peas to give you an added flavour hit. Otherwise you could make your own popcorn. Popcorn is a high-fibre healthy snack provided it isn’t covered in sugar or salt. You’ll find recipes for healthy homemade popcorn online or choose the healthiest option in the supermarket.

Fruit doesn’t always hit the spot when you’re feeling stressed, but a small bowl of chopped banana mixed with natural yoghurt, a drizzle of honey and a light sprinkling of granola will fill you up and may satisfy your cravings.

Your stress habit: retail therapy

Many of us go shopping to fill a void or to feel happier – in fact the ‘shopper’s high’ has been likened to the endorphin surge of the runner’s high. While a little retail therapy is fairly harmless and can lift your spirits, if it becomes a regular habit it can seriously make a mess your budget and cause you to buy things you don’t even need. And with online shopping so accessible, it’s easy to get your fix, even if you have to wait for the product to arrive. You don’t even have the experience of handing over your money – it’s all done with the click of a button.

Buying things on a whim makes us feel good, with studies showing it lights up the pleasure centre in the brain. A 2011 study in the Journal of Psychology and Marketing supports this, finding that a shopping spree does have a positive effect on mood.

The downside, of course, is that too much spending on non-essentials can lead to debt we can ill afford.

The solution: Wait 24 hours before making an impulse purchase. If you still want the item the next day, and you can afford it, then buy it. But by then you may have forgotten about it or decided to wait until you’ve saved up. If you recognise you often reach for your credit card or favourite online store to feel better, stop and consider what else can give you the same feeling. Perhaps you can get the same happy endorphins with exercise – whether that’s a brisk walk, yoga, or kickboxing. Or you may find satisfaction from cleaning out your wardrobe and giving away unwanted clothes to charity.

The Exercise Weight Loss Dilemma

Eat less, move more has been the weight loss mantra for decades. But does exercise really help us lose weight or can it make us want to eat more?

Physical activity consumes kilojoules. We’ve been told for years that if we burn those kilojoules without replacing them in the form of food, then we’ll rid ourselves of excess fat and shrink our waistlines.

It sounds good in theory. Except that past studies have shown it doesn’t always work to plan. Most men and women who begin new exercise routines drop just 30 to 40 percent of the weight they would have expected, given how many additional kilojoules they are burning through exercise.

Why would this be the case? Some scientists think many of us compensate for the kilojoules lost by eating more, moving less, or both.

A recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition tracked a large group of previously inactive people who had started exercise programs. Participants in both the shorter-and-longer-workout groups lost less weight than would have been expected. The reason? They were eating more food as compensation – but not a lot. However, just an additional 90 to 120 calories (380 to 500 kilojoules) each day was enough to undercut weight loss.

So if you’re wanting to lose weight, say the researchers, then along with becoming more active, make sure you don’t eat more to compensate.

Being active = better food choices

But there’s more to it than that, argue the authors of a recent large review study. The University of Leeds study, published in Current Obesity Reports, found that taking up exercise can affect your food choices – in positive ways.

The researchers discovered that regular exercise helped control appetite and was associated with an increased liking or healthier low-fat/low-energy foods, and a decreased desire for unhealthy high-fat or high-energy foods. Their conclusion? Eating more does not necessarily counteract the benefit of increasing physical activity, because you’re likely to seek out healthier foods.

How exercise affects your health

Looking at exercise through the narrow lens of weight loss is problematic, say many experts. That’s because being regularly active brings with it a host of health benefits, whether or not you lose weight. Exercise will:

  •             reduce your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers
  •            lower your blood pressure and cholesterol
  •            strengthen your bones, muscles and joints, and reduce your risks of falls
  •            make you feel better – by giving you more energy, lifting your mood, and helping you sleep more soundly.

Whether or not exercise sheds kilos as quickly as we’d like, what we do know is this: exercise helps minimise weight gain as we age and will help you maintain weight loss if you do lose weight.

The Sweet Tooth

Want to keep your teeth cavity-free for as long as possible? Then start paying close attention to sugar, because a healthy diet is as essential for your mouth as it is for the rest of your body.

The good news is we’re keeping our teeth for longer. The bad news is that one in three of us is walking around with untreated tooth decay, while one in four has periodontal (gum) disease. In most industrialised countries, the rates are similar.

These are the statistics reported in the adult Oral Health Tracker progress report, released in March 2020. This report gives us an update on how Australian adults’ oral health is tracking compared to the previous results in 2018, says the Australian Dental Association’s Oral Health Advisor, Dr Mikaela Chinotti.

“The results are in, and for gum disease and tooth decay, they’re not good,” she says. “These conditions are largely preventable, yet they’ve increased in prevalence and we continue to get further away from our goal of improving our overall oral health.”

Sweet enough

“For many, free sugar consumption is still well above the WHO’s recommended six teaspoons (24 grams) a day limit,” says Dr Chinotti, “and this is affecting quality of life by causing tooth decay.”

Sugar is the enemy of healthy teeth. It feeds the bacteria that live on the surface of your teeth, and they rapidly produce acids that dissolve your protective tooth enamel, leading to decay and cavities. If the bacteria on your teeth spread to the gum line, they can irritate or infect the gums, leading to gingivitis, gum disease and potentially, tooth loss.

The worst offenders are soft drinks and sports drinks. Not only are these full of added sugar, they also contain food acids that can cause further erosion of tooth enamel. And the sugar-free versions should also be consumed with caution – these contain food acids too, so aren’t necessarily much better for your teeth. (Neither is fruit juice, warn dentists, also because of its high acid content.)

Spotting sugar isn’t easy

It’s not always obvious when food contains lots of sugar. Many foods contain both natural and added sweeteners, yet the food label often doesn’t separate the two. The best action is to check nutrition labels and choose foods lowest in sugar, avoid sweet drinks of any type including diet drinks and fruit juice, and drink water or rinse your mouth after any snack or drink. Chewing sugar-free gum for 20 minutes after eating can also help neutralise decay-causing acid attacks.

Make sure you visit your dentist at least once a year for a check-up and advice on how to keep your teeth and mouth healthy.

Swap white bread for wholegrain

It’s easy to get into the habit of picking up the familiar white loaf for your daily toast and sandwiches. Maybe it’s the bread you’ve always eaten, or the one your children prefer in their lunchbox.

All types of bread are a good source of carbohydrates, are low in fat, and many are also fortified with added vitamins and minerals. But making a small swap from white to wholemeal or wholegrain bread can deliver a host of added health benefits. Here’s why:

  • White bread is made from wheat that has had the germ and bran removed, which reduces B vitamins, vitamin E and minerals such as iron, zinc, magnesium and phosphorus
  • Removing the germ and bran also reduces the fibre, which is bad news for our health. According to Australia’s CSIRO, 83 percent of us aren’t getting enough fibre in our diets, and as a result we are more likely to have gut problems such as heartburn, pain and discomfort, bloating and irregular bowel habits. Fibre helps us feel fuller for longer, keeps blood sugar levels stable, and is a source of fuel for our gut bacteria
  • Because both wholemeal and wholegrain bread are made from the entire grain, they also naturally contain more protein, unsaturated fat, vitamins and minerals – the ones that are removed in the making of white flour. Wholegrain bread also contains added grains and seeds, which can increase the nutrient and fibre content

Making the switch from white bread to wholemeal or wholegrain is a simple way of adding more fibre and nutrients to your daily diet. Just make sure to compare brands when you’re shopping. Look for ‘wholegrain’ in the list of ingredients, and choose the bread with the highest wholegrain content.

Is Natural Always Safer?

Nearly three quarters of us use some form of complementary medicines, including vitamins, minerals, herbs, aromatherapy and homeopathic products. But are these as safe as we think?

The word ‘natural’ is advertised across packages of food, supplements, herbs and even detergents. That’s because when we read ‘natural’ we tend to think pure, unadulterated, and harmless. But this may not always be the case.

Reviews of studies on widely available complementary medicines have found that while some have been well-studied and found to be effective, many have not and evidence for their effectiveness is often lacking or of poor quality.

Health risks

Like pharmaceutical drugs, complementary medicines can cause harm, even if they are used correctly. The risks include:

Indirect harm: relying on complementary therapies alone could delay your diagnosis and medical treatment. In the case of serious illnesses, such as cancer, a delay can lead to serious complications or death.

Side effects: some supplements and herbs can cause unwanted and potentially dangerous side effects. For example, the herb feverfew can cause uterine contractions and possible miscarriage in pregnant women.

Drug interactions: some complementary medicines can interact with over-the-counter or prescription drugs. These include evening primose oil, ginkgo, glucosamine, hawthorn, and St John’s wort.

When you’re prescribed a medication, or start taking a complementary medicine when you’re on other medication, it’s wise to let your doctor and pharmacist know everything else you are taking. This is particularly important if you are undergoing surgery, as certain herbal medicines and supplements can interfere with anaesthesia and other medication, as well as with blood clotting and blood pressure.

Risky ingredients: some complementary medicines may not contain what they claim. Last year a major research project lead by researchers from the University of Adelaide and Western Australia’s Murdoch University and Curtin University found many supplements and herbal medicines available to consumers were not exactly what they claimed to be.

More than two thirds of the products tested either had ingredients missing or contained foreign material, including DNA traces of frog, shrew, reindeer, goat and dog. In a small number of cases, herbal supplements contained levels of lead, arsenic, cadmium or mercury that exceeded the safe maximum dose, while others contained undeclared drugs, including an anti-inflammatory pharmaceutical.

While the traces of heavy metals and pharmaceutical drugs are concerning and potentially dangerous, the researchers suggested contamination from commonly domesticated animals could be inadvertent and due to manufacturing deficiencies or transportation.

Stay safe with complementary medicines

  •             If you are feeling unwell, first see your doctor for a diagnosis and treatment – don’t self-diagnose.
  •            Choose a complementary therapist who is registered with the appropriate professional association.
  •        It can be hard to tell what is a good product or not. Some countries, like Australia have a register for approved products. It is important to note that there is no guarantee that a product will work for you as advertised.
  •           Avoid buying online from an overseas retailer, even though they may appear better value. The products could be out-of-date, poor quality or even fake.

Stay informed. There is plenty of medical misinformation or ‘cyberquackery’ online. Make sure you seek out reputable websites to get information about complementary medicines and therapies, such as National Center for Complemetary and Integrative Health at

How to Have Difficult Conversations

Chatting with workmates is the kind of easy interaction we enjoy at work. But at times we also need to have more difficult conversations, and whether these are remote or in person, most of us will do whatever we can to avoid them.

It may be a topic you don’t want to talk about, a situation where you’re not sure what to say, or a subject where you have conflicting opinions. Speaking up and having uncomfortable discussions are part and parcel of working with other people.

Dealing with issues by having honest conversations gives you an opportunity to resolve conflict quickly, improve relationships with your team or workmates, and if you’re a manager, improve employee performance.

Yet most of us would do anything other than talk about a tricky subject, says BBC World Service contributor Alison Green, who has been giving workplace advice for over a decade.

“An awful lot of us are hoping that there will be some sort of magical spell that will let us solve problems without ever having to use our words,” she says.

Green quotes real examples from the workplace. “I’ve heard from people who stew in silence for months rather than asking a colleague to please stop taking all their calls on speakerphone,” she says. “And I’ve heard from people who spend way too long tolerating physically uncomfortable working conditions – like a painful chair or an air freshener that literally nauseates them – rather than have a quick conversation with the person who could fix it.”

How to bring up a tricky subject

1. First consider what the problem is and whether a conversation is necessary. If the problem is trivial or temporary, you may not wish to draw attention to it. You may also not be the best person to initiate the conversation. It may be more appropriate for a human resources officer or someone more senior to get involved.

2. Stop worrying about being liked. This isn’t the most important thing. Instead, be respectful – both of the other person and of yourself. Respect their point of view and expect them to respect yours.

3. Avoid speaking in an aggressive or adversarial way, advises Green. Instead, speak calmly and matter-of-factly, in a tone you’d use if you were trying to solve any other work-related problem such as a software issue.

4. Focus on listening, not speaking. Planning what you’re going to say is likely to be a waste of time, as conversations rarely go to plan. Take the pressure off yourself and rather than focusing on talking, concentrate on listening, reflecting and observing. If a team member has missed another deadline, for instance, approach them by asking neutral, supportive questions “I see the project is behind schedule. Tell me about the challenges you’re facing.” Then listen, get as much detail as you can, and ask follow-up questions.

3 Myths About Diabetes

It’s strongly linked to what you eat and how much you exercise, can eventually lead to blindness, heart disease and kidney failure, and is the one of the fastest growing chronic conditions in the world.

It’s type 2 diabetes, and it affects over 463 million adults worldwide.

Most of us know someone with type 2 diabetes. It’s the most common type of diabetes, representing 85 to 90 per cent of all cases. The other two types are type 1 – an autoimmune disease which often starts in childhood or early adulthood and is not linked to lifestyle – and gestational diabetes, which affects pregnant women.

What is type 2 diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes is a condition where your body cannot regulate blood sugar levels properly. After you’ve eaten a meal it’s normal for blood glucose levels to rise. When they do, your pancreas releases a hormone called insulin, which acts like a key to let the glucose pass from your bloodstream into your body’s cells, producing energy.

If you have type 2 diabetes, you either don’t produce enough insulin or it’s not doing its job properly. This means glucose doesn’t easily move into your body’s cells, and your blood glucose levels stay too high for too long. It’s these prolonged high blood glucose levels that can cause damage to blood vessels throughout the body, including your eyes, kidneys and extremities like your feet.

Diabetes is a complex disease, and there are a number of common misunderstandings surrounding it.

1. You can’t reverse type 2 diabetes

We used to think that a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes meant that you had it for life, but studies have now shown otherwise. There have been some new data that shows that you can reverse type 2 diabetes.

One UK study published in The Lancet in 2019 put people diagnosed with diabetes within the last six years on a strict calorie-controlled meal replacement program.

“They were able to show that after a year, almost 50 per cent of participants were able to reverse their diabetes and went back to normal glucose levels without medication,” explains Dr Hocking.

When it comes to preventing and treating diabetes, losing weight is the most effective strategy, says Dr Hocking. But if you find this difficult, studies show that losing as little as five per cent of your body weight can make a significant difference, as does increasing exercise and improving your diet – whether you lose weight or not.

2. Sugar causes diabetes

Diabetes is a condition where blood sugar levels are too high, so it can be easy to think that eating too much sugar is the cause. But this is a very simplistic message, says nutrition scientist Dr Joanna McMillan. “It’s not that sugar causes diabetes,” she explains. “It’s true we eat too much sugar, but we also have too much processed food and too many kilojoules. Rather than blaming one single dietary aspect like sugar, we should look at the dietary patterns of the foods we consume.”

Sugar is found naturally in fruit and vegetables (as fructose) and diary foods (as lactose). But it’s also added to food and drink by food manufacturers, and it’s this added sugar – found in confectionary, cakes, biscuits, fruit juices, soft drinks, smoothies, syrups and honey – that we need to cut down on. That’s because it’s easy to over-consume, often comes in products also high in fat and other refined carbohydrates, and can lead to weight gain, which in turn increases your risk of diabetes.

If you have diabetes, aim to eat plenty of plant foods such as wholegrains, legumes, fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds, and fewer highly processed foods and refined carbs (sugar, white bread, products made from white flour, white rice and pasta). For tailored advice on what to eat, talk to your doctor who may refer you to a dietitian or other specialist.

3. You can’t exercise if you have diabetes

Exercise is beneficial for everyone, whether or not they have diabetes. This myth probably came about because people with type 1 diabetes have to be vigilant about balancing their insulin doses with food and activity, to avoid blood sugar going too high or too low.

But exercise is key to staying healthy whatever type of diabetes you have. It can also help prevent and manage type 2 diabetes. Regular physical activity can:

  •               Help you maintain a healthy weight.
  •               Help lower blood pressure and reduce your risk of heart disease.
  •              Reduce stress.
  •              Increase your insulin sensitivity. Resistance or strength training is particularly effective at improving your body’s ability to use insulin and process glucose. The ability of your muscles to store glucose increases with your strength, making your body better able to regulate its blood glucose levels.

For good health, you should aim for 30 minutes of exercise every day, and plan to do two sessions of strength or resistance training each week. This can be done at home using your body weight, free weights, or resistance bands, or at a gym.