Deb Vynalek, owner of Core Club & 24/7 Gym in Durham, uses spray disinfectant on free weights as patron Nathan Trucks, of Guilford, takes a breather while working out at the fitness club shortly after they reopened. The club was shuttered for three months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Cloe Poisson /

Despite having been one of the states with the highest percentage of vaccinated population, Connecticut has also been one of the slower states to lift restrictions and open up certain facilities to full capacities. Some unintended consequences of slow re-opening include less access to gyms/exercise facilities and reluctance to attend healthcare visits in-person. Months of being confined to the home can also lead to decline in mental health, which may cause some to turn to comfort foods, overeating, and inactivity.

Stephanie Watson

However, now that the state of Connecticut has mostly re-opened, as well as summer weather having arrived, residents should have more access to both indoor and outdoor spaces to exercise. Residents can also find several local farmers markets or safely visit berry-picking patches to kickstart an end-of-pandemic nutrition overhaul. As a  physician assistant and a Nutrition Fellow for the PA Foundation, I encourage making some simple changes that can have a big impact on your current and future health.

Changes like increasing consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables in diet and decreasing processed snack foods and carbohydrate-heavy meals can help in preventing diseases such as type 2 diabetes, which is one of the most common health problems Americans face today. In fact, in 2018, 13% of all adults in the U.S. had diabetes; in adults over age 65, that number was 27% (CDC National Diabetes Statistics Report 2020).

Diabetes is a condition in which your body cannot properly use the glucose (sugar). Insulin is a hormone produced by your body’s pancreas which helps to move glucose into cells so it may be used for energy. In type 2 diabetes, insulin is not properly made or used by the body due to a variety of factors. Complications of type 2 diabetes, especially if poorly controlled, include increased risk of heart attack and stroke, poor wound healing, and damage to the eyes and kidneys among others.

If your healthcare provider believes you are at increased risk for development of type 2 diabetes, there are changes you can make right now to prevent type 2 diabetes and its related health complication. For example, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, losing just 7% of your body weight can help. Incorporating moderate exercise (such as the brisk walk mentioned earlier) for 30 minutes, five days a week can help too. Regular check-ups with your healthcare provider are also necessary, as many people with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes are unaware they have it.

While thinking about health concerns like type 2 diabetes may not have been a main focus in the past year and a half while surviving the COVID pandemic, many people have spent 2020 and 2021 re-evaluating their long-term goals and priorities. Optimizing our nutrition is a great way to make sure that we are sufficiently healthy and happy  to accomplish these goals for many years to come.

Stephanie Watson is a physician assistant in Hartford.