Exercise helps your brain and body — especially if you have or want to avoid diabetes.

A new study highlights the possible effects of Type 2 diabetes on thoughts, emotions and behaviors — including how someone manages the disease itself.

Researchers examined how diabetes can impair “executive functions,” cognitive abilities that control thinking patterns, emotional reactions and impulsive behaviors.

“This facet of brain function is particularly important because we rely on it when we are attempting to behave in a way that is contrary to our natural inclinations or what the environment impels us to do,” said Corita Vincent, lead author of the study, which was published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine and conducted in the School of Public Health and Health Systems at the University of Waterloo in Canada.

This behavior can range from impulse shopping to following social cues. “The problem is the fact that effective diabetes management relies pretty heavily on executive function,” Peter Hall, a Waterloo professor and senior author on the study, said in a statement.

“The types of behaviors that are recommended to help individuals control type 2 diabetes are all things that do not come naturally to most people,” Hall added.

That’s why some people with diabetes might have trouble taking medication on schedule, checking their blood sugar regularly or watching what they eat. In a review of 60 studies, the researchers compared the executive function of 9,815 people with type 2 diabetes to the abilities of nearly 70,000 people without it. Their work is considered the first comprehensive statistical summary of its kind.

What You Can Do

About 13 percent of all African Americans over the age of 20 have been diagnosed with diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA). One in four African-American women over age 55 are diabetic and millions more are pre-diabetic. But diabetes-related complications can be avoided if you keep your blood sugar under control and take good care of yourself. Here’s what you can do whether you have diabetes — or want to avoid it:

  • Try some brain fitness. “Cognitively challenging activities — such as learning new things, solving difficult puzzles and other problem-solving activities — all help to keep your brain sharp,” Hall suggests. Learn a new language, or brush up on old skills. Then, set aside funds to treat yourself to a trip where you can test out your way with words.
  • Work your body. Do more of what you love, whether it’s walking, jogging, playing tennis, dancing of kick-boxing. “Aerobic exercise is probably the most important, however, because it has benefits to both the brain and the rest of the body simultaneously,” Hall adds. Try the ADA’s guide on setting an exercise goal and making a plan to keep it.
  • Fast one day a week to help cut cholesterol and drop the weight, according to other research highlighted in a Fierce roundup on “Outsmarting Diabetes.”
  • Tomato and fish salad (Cristian Baitg/Getty Images)

    Tomato and fish salad (Cristian Baitg/Getty Images)

    Try the Mediterranean diet take to avoid diabetes. One study found a 20 percent lower rate in people who followed the diet, which emphasizes fruits, vegetables and grains.

  • Seek inspiration in Transformations. Read how one woman successfully beat diabetes and curbed her cravings for sweets, bread and rice. Sound familiar?
  • Use your smart phone. Set reminders on your phone’s alarm and calendar to help you stick to your medication schedule and stay on top of doctor’s appointments.
  • Forgive yourself. It will help you get back on track if you slip. The key is staying there. Build a circle of support to help!

Cigarettes, smoking, smokeAnother reason to quit smoking: Former and current smokers have a thinner cortex — the part of the brain that controls memory, language, perception and other thought processes, according to a new study in the journal Molecular Psychiatry. Quitting is still beneficial, even though it takes a while to reverse the damage.