People with risk factors related to type 2 diabetes can take steps to prevent the onset of the condition. These risk factors include prediabetes, a condition in which blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes.
Preventing type 2 diabetes primarily involves eating a nutritious diet, maintaining a moderate weight, and exercising regularly. Since diabetes is a disease that can cause serious health problems, all preventive measures are worthwhile.
Read on to learn more about seven ways people can reduce their risk of type 2 diabetes.
Preventing type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes can cause a variety of medical conditions, such as stroke, heart disease, blindness and kidney failure, so preventing the disease can also reduce the risk of these serious complications.
Prevention involves adopting a number of lifestyle practices that improve health and also offer other benefits, such as more energy and better sleep.
1. Eat a nutritious diet
Eating well means including nutritious foods in your diet while avoiding foods that can harm your health. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a diet rich in the following:
- non-starchy vegetables, such as spinach, asparagus, mushrooms and broccoli
- lean proteins, including turkey, chicken, fish, tofu, plain Greek yogurt, legumes, and eggs
- whole grains, such as steel-cut oatmeal, quinoa and brown rice
- water and unsweetened beverages
The CDC advises avoiding:
- sugary beverages, such as soda, sports drinks and fruit juices
- processed foods, including potato chips, granola bars, candy, fast foods, canned meats and packaged snack foods
- trans fats, which are in margarine, packaged baked goods, snack foods, and many fried foods
2. Achieving and maintaining a moderate weight
If a person with prediabetes has excess body weight, they can help reverse their prediabetes by losing 5 percent of their weight. Choosing healthy foods most of the time can make a difference in weight management because most of these choices are naturally low in calories.
It also helps to learn about portion control. One way to do this is to use the plate method, which shows the approximate portions of food you should put on a plate. It recommends:
- half of the plate should contain non-starchy vegetables
- a quarter of the plate should contain carbohydrates
- one-fourth of the plate is for protein-rich foods
The American Diabetes Society (ADA) advises doing the following to lose weight:
- reduce calorie and fat intake
- eat breakfast every day
- stay physically active
- watch less than 10 hours of television per week
- monitor your progress by checking your body weight once a week at the same time of day.
3. Exercise regularly
Exercise promotes all aspects of health, including diabetes prevention. A person should try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise 5 days a week. If a person is not used to exercise, he or she should talk to a doctor to determine which activities are best for him or her.
People may find it beneficial to set a fitness goal and then begin a workout routine slowly, increasing time and intensity gradually until they reach their goal.
4. Quitting smoking
Smokers have a 30 percent to 40 percent higher risk of type 2 diabetes than nonsmokers. In addition, the more a person smokes, the greater his or her likelihood of developing the condition.
Conversely, the sooner you quit smoking, the sooner you will experience the benefits. Studies show that insulin becomes more effective 8 weeks after a person quits smoking. Insulin is a hormone that lowers blood sugar levels.
The ADA suggests that people trying to quit smoking make it as easy as possible for themselves with the following:
- setting a date to quit smoking in the near future.
- deciding whether to “go cold turkey” or cut back and then following that strategy
- asking for support from others
- quitting smoking at the same time as a friend or family member, if possible
- discard all cigarettes, lighters and ashtrays.
- talk to a doctor about using a nicotine patch or nicotine spray
- Consider counseling, acupuncture, or hypnosis.
5. Control high blood pressure
High blood pressure is another risk factor for diabetes. A 2015 meta-analysis reviewed the medical records of more than 4 million healthy adults. This compared these data with those from studies that reported on new-onset diabetes and high blood pressure. The analysis indicated that people with elevated blood pressure have an increased risk of diabetes.
The ADA explains that people can help control high blood pressure by the following:
- choosing foods that contain less than 400 milligrams of sodium per serving
- using spices and herbs instead of salt to flavor foods
- eating whole-grain breads and cereals
- talking to a doctor about blood pressure-lowering medications
- limit alcohol consumption and ask a doctor if it is best to avoid alcohol altogether.
6. Find ways to relax
When a person experiences stress, the hormones the body releases can cause blood sugar levels to drop or rise unpredictably. This mind-body connection means that if mental health improves, physical health can also improve, including the bodily processes that can cause type 2 diabetes. Consequently, it is beneficial to find ways to relax.
A 2018 study indicates that stress increases the risk of diabetes and that yoga effectively reduces stress. The authors reviewed research on the topic and determined that several yoga techniques produce diabetes-related benefits. These benefits included lower blood glucose levels due to increased insulin production or reduced insulin resistance. Insulin resistance refers to cells in the body that do not readily absorb blood sugar.
Another relaxation technique is meditation. Research conducted in 2018 explored the effects of 6 months of meditation in people with coronary artery disease. The authors used meditation techniques to focus attention on breathing and various parts of the body. Meditation participants showed a significant reduction in blood sugar levels.
7. Join a lifestyle change program.
Making dramatic lifestyle changes sometimes involves daunting challenges. A CDC-recognized lifestyle change program for diabetes prevention offers support, encouragement and coaching that can help a person persevere with the necessary changes.
The program includes:
- lessons and resources
- a lifestyle coach who has completed training on how to help someone set goals and maintain motivation to achieve them
- a support group of people with similar challenges