More than 29 million people in the United States are living with diabetes, according to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. People with the chronic condition have an increased risk of developing other serious health problems, including cardiovascular disease, stroke, and limb amputation. New research published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association found that enrolling in a lifestyle intervention program that promotes healthy eating and exercising can lower the risk of these complications in diabetes patients.

The study found that type 2 diabetes patients lowered cardiovascular risks associated with type 2 diabetes and elevated glucose levels after taking just 16 two-hour classes at The Complete Health Improvement Lifestyle Intervention Program (HIP), an education program that promotes a healthy lifestyle. It includes cooking classes, an exercise program, and group discussions to give participants the specifics they need to improve their health.

Although medications are instrumental in helping diabetes patients control blood glucose, lipid levels, and blood pressure, it is also important for them to develop a healthy lifestyle that consists of a well-balanced diet and exercise to control cardiovascular disease risk factors.

"This study supports the osteopathic philosophy of medicine, including that diet and exercise are the most effective prescriptions physicians can give patients struggling with lifestyle diseases like type 2 diabetes. But lifestyle changes require more commitment than taking a pill, which is why programs like CHIP are so beneficial," study coauthor Jay Shubrook said in a statement. "Community-based interventions provide the social supports and specific instruction that move patients into healthy habits, which in some cases enabled them to reduce medications."

Shubrook and his colleagues analyzed data collected between 2011 and 2014 from 110 people with type 2 diabetes who had enrolled in the CHIP program. The focus of the program was to get the participants to improve their diet by incorporating healthier food and beverage options, such as fresh fruits, whole grains, legumes, and nuts. They found that participants experienced a 10 percent reduction in total cholesterol levels, a 9 percent reduction in fasting glucose, nearly 4 percent reduction in body mass index, and a nearly 5.7 percent reduction in systolic blood pressure after just 16 classes.

"This program engages the community to strive for and reach better health, while preparing participants with the structure they need to continue a healthy lifestyle in the future," Shubrook explained. According to the study, CHIP is effective in maintaining reductions in CVD risk factors for up to three years after completion of the program.

The researchers said they showed that CHIP significantly reduced risk factors for cardiovascular disease in diabetics over a short period of time, but studies that look at the long-term effects of the program are still needed.

Source: Leibold D, Shubrook J, Nakazawa M, Drozek D. Effectiveness of the Complete Health Improvement Program in Reducing Risk Factors for Cardiovascular Disease in an Appalachian Population. The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association. 2016.