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Type 2 Diabetes Prevention: Here's What You Can Do

Strategies to help prevent, slow or even reverse the progression of type 2 diabetes, including prediabetes, focus on making lifestyle adjustment—to diet and physical activity.

It is possible to prevent type 2 diabetes. Whether you have several of the risk factors or you’ve been told you have prediabetes, you can take action and reduce your risk of developing diabetes. 

Taking the stairs is one way to lessen your risk of developing diabetes.Moving more is one of several important lifestyle changes you can make to lessen your risk of type 2 diabetes

Don’t delay: if you’ve been told that you’re at risk of developing diabetes, consider even the smallest changes you can make as soon as possible. 

Key Lifestyle Tips to Get You Started

Your healthcare provider will help you develop a plan, but it should include:

  • Getting to—and staying at—a healthy weight: Being overweight (BMI greater than 25 kg/m2) increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, so if you’re overweight, you should take steps to lose weight. By losing 5% to 10% of your body weight, you can reduce your risk. You can do this by eating smaller portions and being more physically active, which, conveniently enough, are two other ways to prevent type 2 diabetes.
  • Reduce portions and eat healthier: First, build your meals around vegetables rather than meat, and cut back on your starches. Avoiding added sugar and sugar substitutes, as well as processed grains. Instead, substitute with heart-healthy fats, high protein-whole grains (eg, pasta made from chickpea flour, quinoa, sprouted wheat bread), fruit to add sweetness even to salads or as a snack, and lean meats and dairy products. Seek out new, appetizing recipes; there are many cookbooks that offer lower-fat and healthier recipes.

    A terrific rule to follow is to use a luncheon size plate rather than a dinner plate.  This is an easy way to guide your portion sizes without having to think so much about it. Enjoy a glass of red wine or similar drinks only occasionally since your body treats alcohol more like a fat than a carb when it comes to calories. Eat a sound breakfast and try to eat a bigger lunch so the bulk of your calories are consumed by the midafternoon as a way to keep your blood glucose level in a healthy range, and lessen the chance of undesirable weight gain.1
  • Consider signing up for a virtual coach.  Trying to make these changes on your own, at your own pace, and in your own time is very hard. So consider joining a support group like Overeaters Anonymous so you don't have to go it alone. Another way to gain insights and get some help as you attempt to make some changes is to find an app that offers personalized tips and ideas. Having a virtual coach is both convenient has been shown effective in improving diabetes care.
  • Sit Less, Move More. Aim for some daily physical activity. Exercise is important to help prevent type 2 diabetes and has so many other benefits. It can help you keep lost weight off, and improve your heart health, and if you’re insulin resistant, it can help increase your body's response to insulin (exercise so you will have better blood glucose control. Plus, exercise promotes better sleep, and can even reduce the symptoms of depression, helping put you in a better mood. 

    In fact, researchers found that by swapping 30 minutes of sitting with any movement or activity can reduce your risk of premature death by up to 35%. After following about 8,000 adults, it seems the intensity and time matter much less than just reducing how much you sit; their findings can be found in the American Journal of Epidemiology. 

    "If you have a job or lifestyle that involves a lot of sitting, you can lower your risk of early death by moving more," says the primary investigator, Keith Diaz, PhD, assistant professor of behavioral medicine at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York. Even sitting at a desk or on the couch for an hour or more raises your risk for poorer outcomes so get up, walk around, and stand periodically to improve your health status.

With all those benefits, why wouldn’t you want to add in some exercise? Start with a 10-minute walk. Then add a second walk, say before you eat lunch. Whenever you have a chance to climb stairs, take them, if you can. Because starting to increase your physical activity—and sticking with it—will get easier.

  • Stay Hydrated. Drinking water throughout the day is always good to keep your organs and skin healthy. Of course, getting some fluid before, during and after exercise is just as important to avoid becoming dehydrated. However, what you choose matters a lot. For example, skip the soda. New findings come out regularly to warn against the negative health effects of added sugar, including fructose (ie, high fructose corn syrup), honey, and agave.

    In a study published in the American Journal of Physiology, individuals who consumed a soft drink after a 45-minute workout had worse kidney function, indicating the possibility of acute kidney injury; and there were signs of increased blood pressure.3

Create a Workout Routine that Fits Your Schedule and Tolerance

Start slow, and take into account your overall health. Build up to an exercise plan that works for you and that your motivated to do.  Having a walking partner or exercise buddy works well for some.

Ultimately, aim for a goal of 10,000-15,000 steps a day or at least 30-60 minutes of activity most days of the week. If you think that you can’t find 30 minutes, you can break up the exercise into chunks—even five to 10-minute efforts throughout the day.

Once you are able to reach your maximum based on your energy, time, and comfort, you might then consider adding strength training to build some muscle and converse fat tissue to lean mass. Lifting hand weights for 20-30 minutes for two or three times a week is sufficient to get the full benefits of strength training. Or, take a yoga class.

Remember to always get your doctor’s approval before you start exercising.

Lifestyle changes that focus specifically on diet and physical activity are the best way to prevent type 2 diabetes from developing and worsening, and if you’ve been told that you’re at a higher risk for diabetes—or that you already have prediabetes—taking action right now will lower your health risk and put you on the path to prevention.

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