Five Lifestyle Changes That Can Put Prediabetes in Reverse

Two women exercising with free weights

November is National Diabetes Awareness Month and in keeping with this year’s theme, we’re focusing on prediabetes and the ways to reverse it to prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes.

Often a forerunner to developing diabetes, prediabetes is a serious condition in which blood glucose (sugar) levels are higher than normal, but not high enough for a diabetes diagnosis. Having prediabetes can put you at risk for heart disease, stroke and developing type 2 diabetes – the most common form of the disease.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 88 million Americans – one in three adults – have prediabetes.  As many as 80% of them don’t realize they have the condition and without intervention, can develop type 2 diabetes within five years.

There are several factors that put people at risk for prediabetes and type 2 diabetes, including:

  • Being overweight
  • Being 45 years old or older
  • Having a parent or sibling with type 2 diabetes
  • Being physically active fewer than 3 times per week
  • Giving birth to a baby that weighed more than 9 pounds
  • Having gestational diabetes (diabetes while pregnant)

Fortunately, prediabetes is reversible and making lifestyle changes can help delay or prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes.

The CDC’s National Diabetes Prevention Program, launched a decade ago to address the increasing burden of prediabetes and type 2 diabetes in the U.S., includes a research-based lifestyle change program that has proved successful in helping those with prediabetes greatly reduce their risk of developing diabetes.

The Mayo Clinic also promotes making five lifestyle changes to manage or reverse prediabetes and prevent type 2 diabetes, and the serious health complications it can cause.

Lose extra weight

The American Diabetes Association recommends that people with prediabetes lose at least 7 to 10% of their body weight to prevent disease progression. Additional weight loss will bring even greater health benefits.

Speak with your health care provider about setting a weight loss goal based on your current body weight with reasonable and attainable short-term goals – 1 to 2 pounds per week.

Making a healthy meal plan

Increase your physical activity

Benefits of being more active include losing weight, lowering blood sugar levels, and boosting your sensitivity to insulin – which helps keep blood sugar within a normal range.

Activities that promote weight loss and help maintain a healthy weight include:

  • Moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise – walking, running, biking, swimming – for 30 minutes most days for a total of at least 150 minutes per week.
  • Resistance training – weightlifting, calisthenics, yoga – 2 to 3 times per week to increase strength, balance and stamina.
  • Limiting inactivity – break up sedentary time, by standing, walking or doing some light activity every 30 minutes.
A woman exercising with a group outdoors

Eat healthy plant foods

Plants provide vitamins, minerals, and carbohydrates in your diet. Carbohydrates include sugars and starches — the energy sources for your body — and fiber.

Fiber-rich foods promote weight loss and lower the risk of diabetes. Eat a variety of healthy, fiber-rich foods including, fruits (tomatoes, peppers, fruit from trees), non-starchy vegetables (leafy greens, broccoli, and cauliflower), legumes (beans, chickpeas and lentils), and whole grains (whole wheat pasta and bread, whole-grain rice, oats, and quinoa).

Energy rich and filling, foods high in fiber can slow the absorption of sugars and lower blood sugar levels, interfere with the absorption of dietary fat and cholesterol, and manage other heart-health risk factors like blood pressure and inflammation.

Avoid foods considered “unhealthy carbohydrates" — high in sugar with little fiber or nutrients: white bread and pastries, pasta from white flour, fruit juices, and processed foods with sugar or high-fructose corn syrup.

Woman chopping tomatoes and peppers

Eat healthy fats

Fatty foods are high in calories and should be eaten in moderation. To help lose and manage weight, your diet should include a variety of foods with unsaturated fats.

Unsaturated fats promote healthy blood cholesterol levels along with good heart and vascular health. Sources of good fats include olive, sunflower, safflower, cottonseed, and canola oils; nuts and seeds (almonds, peanuts, flaxseed, and pumpkin seeds); and fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines, tuna, and cod).

Saturated fats found in dairy products and meats should be a small part of your diet. Limit saturated fats by eating low-fat dairy products and lean beef and pork.

Avoid fad diets, make healthy choices

Many fad diets, like glycemic index, paleo or keto, may help you lose weight. But there is little research on the long-term benefits of these diets or benefit in preventing diabetes.

Your dietary goal should be to lose weight and then maintain a healthier weight. Healthy dietary changes you make should be those you can stick with as a lifelong habit.

One strategy to help make good food choices and eat appropriate portion sizes is to divide your plate in three sections, reserving one-half for fruit and non-starchy vegetables, one-quarter for whole grains, and one-quarter for protein-rich foods, such as lean meats, fish or legumes.

Woman grocery shopping for fresh produce

The American Diabetes Association recommends routine screening with diagnostic tests for type 2 diabetes for all adults age 45 or older and for the following groups:

  • People younger than 45 who are overweight or obese and have one or more risk factors associated with diabetes
  • Women who have had gestational diabetes
  • People who have been diagnosed with prediabetes
  • Children who are overweight or obese and who have a family history of type 2 diabetes or other risk factors

If you have risk factors and concerns about prediabetes, take this CDC online test and speak with your health care provider about being screened for prediabetes. 

Learn more about South Shore Health's Prediabetes Group.