What do pastors get when they combine bi-vocational work, tending to family needs, and the general ups and downs of life? Answer (most of the time): suffering heath. The demand on clergy is taxing, and ministry often demands more than pastors feel they can give.
Personal health is typically a low-scoring section on pastoral surveys. Pastors have so much on their minds and on their schedules that it’s an easy one to overlook. But it’s costing us. There is a rise in pre-diabetic and diabetic patterns within the realm of clergy, and we want to equip you with information to lessen this trend. The following five points about diabetes are taken from the American Diabetes Association and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
- Risk Factors for developing Type 2 Diabetes. After eating, food is broken down into sugar for the body to use for energy. Insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, helps the sugar enter the cells and maintain normal sugar levels. While several types of diabetes exist, Type 2 diabetes occurs because of the inability of the pancreas to produce enough insulin or cells failing to respond appropriately to the circulating insulin (aka insulin resistance). This results in elevated blood sugars. It is more common in middle and late adulthood, but a disturbing new trend is increased diabetes in young adults and adolescents. There are higher rates of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus in adults who have a sedentary lifestyle, are overweight, over 45, and have a direct family member (e.g., mother, father, or sibling) living with diabetes. Ethnicity and other chronic illnesses such as hypertension, high cholesterol, and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) may also increase the risk. A quick Risk Test is available at Know Your Risk | ADA (diabetes.org). What risk factors do you have?
- The importance of early screening. The CDC estimates 1 in 5 people have undiagnosed diabetes. Like many chronic diseases, symptoms of diabetes that prompt an individual to see a healthcare provider occur after silent damage is already happening within the body. Symptoms may include fatigue, increased hunger, increased thirst, urinary frequency, blurred vision, unexpected weight loss, and elevated blood sugars. Sometimes an infection or other illness may prompt a visit to a healthcare provider, and then diabetes is discovered. Participating in routine physical assessments and suggested health screenings are so important. Screening usually involves a blood test to evaluate blood sugar randomly, when fasting, or an average of blood sugars over the past three months (Hemoglobin A1c). Do you participate in annual health screenings and routine physicals? If not, why not?
- Lifestyle Changes: Exercise, Diet, & Weight Loss. Start small, set weekly activity goals, and slowly work up. The ideal is 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise five times a week (e.g., bowling, golfing with walking between holes, swimming, bicycling, hiking, etc.), but 30 minutes can be broken up throughout the day. Working changes into your normal routine will help ensure success. For diet, start with smaller portions. Then work on eating fewer carbs, fewer red meats, more whole grains, more fish, and more vegetables. Webpages like Diabetes Food Hub have easy recipes and meal plans. Eating out with parishioners? Check out Diabetes nutrition: Eating out when you have diabetes – Mayo Clinic. Losing 5-7% of one’s current weight significantly lowers blood sugars, blood pressure, cholesterol, and has numerous other positive effects. Weight loss from healthy habits reduces prediabetic risk by half. If you are in the danger zone, ask your primary care provider for a referral to a Diabetic Educator, a person with special education to help answer specific questions about lifestyle changes and overall management. How can you incorporate healthy changes into your lifestyle today?
- Medications alone are not enough. Type 2 Diabetes can be managed by oral or injectable medications. However, in many cases, Type 2 Diabetes can be successfully managed with diet and exercise alone. Lifestyle change is extremely important, even if a healthcare provider prescribes medication. Medications were never designed to do all the work. The combination of lifestyle and medications improve overall health and diminish the risks of long-term complications. Are you looking for a quick fix? or lifelong change?
- Potential Long-term Complications. Excess sugar levels lead to changes within the blood vessels and organs, especially if left out of control. Changes to small vessels lead to numbness in the feet or hands, blurred vision, and kidney disease or failure. Changes in large vessels lead to heart attack, stroke, and hypertension. Other complications include higher rates of depression, dementia, infections, and hearing impairments. Complications can be mitigated by early diagnosis, preventative lifestyle changes, and good overall diabetes management. Are you taking care of your physical body?
If you conclude this list and are left dwelling on fear and worry, you have missed the intention. It’s good to be aware of how to care for our bodies. It’s good to be informed on the risks when we neglect caring for them. So, take a quick inventory and see if the feelings inside stem from conviction or fear.
If conviction–it’s time to take a step toward health and goals. Pick at least one today to implement.
If fear–it’s time to talk with God. Bring Him what’s on your mind, and ask Him to clarify the security and hope you already have in Him.