Preventing Type 2 Diabetes

Before people develop type 2 diabetes, they almost always have "prediabetes" – blood glucose levels that are higher than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. Today, 57 million people in the United States have prediabetes.

Prediabetes is a serious medical condition that can be treated. The recently completed Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) study conclusively showed that people with prediabetes can prevent the development of type 2 diabetes by making changes in their diet and increasing their level of physical activity. They may even be able to return their blood glucose levels to the normal range.

You have the power to lower your risk for diabetes – and the research proves it. It's not about a complete lifestyle overhaul, but little changes in your daily diet, exercise and other habits go a long way. For example:

  • People with pre-diabetes may be 58 percent less likely to develop the full-blown condition if they exercise for 30 minutes a day and lose just 5 to 10 percent of their body weight, according to the Diabetes Prevention Program.
  • People who made lifestyle changes (altered diet and did regular physical activity) reduced their risk of diabetes more than those who simply took a medication (metformin), according to results from the Diabetes Prevention Program.
  • A study published in the British Medical Journal found that eating one and a half extra servings of green leafy vegetables a day reduced the risk of type 2 diabetes by 14 percent.

Diabetes and Heart Disease: The ABCs of Prevention

There are plenty of ways to lower your risk, and you may already be doing some of them. To find out if you're doing enough, know the results of the three tests that the American Diabetes Association (ADA) calls "the ABCs of diabetes." If you don't already know your ABC numbers, ask your doctor.

  • A for A1C. The A1C test shows your average blood sugar level for the past two or three months. High blood sugar harms your heart, blood vessels and other organs. The ADA recommends a target A1C level below 7.
  • B for blood pressure. Blood pressure readings measure the force of blood against the walls of your blood vessels. Having high blood pressure makes your heart work harder and damages your blood vessels. Aim for a blood pressure below 130/80.
  • C for cholesterol. Cholesterol is a fatty substance in your blood. Unhealthy cholesterol levels can raise your risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Pay special attention to LDL, the bad cholesterol that can clog your arteries. Keep your LDL below 100.

Simple Lifestyle Changes Can Make a Big Difference

Making just a few small changes can have make a big impact on your health, and can help you significantly reduce your risk and prevent type 2 diabetes. Choose healthy foods, and be physically active at least 30 minutes a day.

  • Swapping white rice for brown can help lower your risk of diabetes. Harvard researchers estimated that replacing 50 grams of white rice (just one third of a typical daily serving) with the same amount of brown rice would lower the risk of type 2 diabetes by 16 percent.
  • Turn off the tube. Every two hours you spend watching TV instead of pursuing something more active increases the chances of developing diabetes by 14 percent, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.
  • Get out and walk. Findings from the Nurses' Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-up Study suggest that walking briskly for a half hour every day reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 30 percent, according to the HSPH.