An estimated 84 million Americans have prediabetes—which can lead to type 2 diabetes. Yet 90% of those who have prediabetes don’t know it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Making changes to your diet and activity level, and losing weight if you are overweight, are important ways to reduce your risk of both prediabetes and diabetes, says Valentine J. Burroughs, MD, an endocrinologist at Highland Medical, P.C.
Having prediabetes means your blood sugar levels are elevated, but not high enough to signal full-blown diabetes. “If your doctor tells you that you have prediabetes, you should get busy making changes to your diet and exercise plan,” Dr. Burroughs said. “It’s often helpful to consult a nutritionist about the best way to eat healthy. Weight loss is key. If you are able to get back to your ideal body weight (for many people, that means your weight in high school or college) you may even be able to reverse your prediabetes. That doesn’t mean you’re cured, however. If your weight goes back up, your prediabetes is likely to return.
If you haven’t been to the doctor lately to get your blood sugar levels checked, celebrate Diabetes Alert Day—March 27—by making an appointment. A blood test called the hemoglobin A1C test measures your average levels of blood sugar over the past three months. Levels that are slightly elevated may indicate prediabetes, while more elevated levels indicate diabetes. Don’t try to diagnose yourself, Dr. Burroughs says. He notes that equipment that you can buy at the store, such as a blood glucose meter, cannot diagnose diabetes.
It’s especially important for people with risk factors for diabetes to get checked. People at elevated risk include those who:
- have a family history of diabetes
- are over age 45
- are overweight
- are African American, Alaska Native, American Indian, Asian American, Hispanic/Latino, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander
- have high blood pressure
- have a low level of HDL (“good”) cholesterol, or a high level of triglycerides
- have a history of pregnancy-related (gestational) diabetes or gave birth to a baby weighing 9 pounds or more
- are not physically active
Serious lifestyle changes can prevent type 2 diabetes in people who have prediabetes. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases recommends:
- If you’re overweight, set a weight-loss goal that you can reach. Try to lose at least 5 to 10% of your current weight. For example, if you weigh 200 pounds, a 10% weight-loss goal means that you will try to lose 20 pounds. Knowing your body mass index (BMI), which is based on your weight and height, will indicate whether you are underweight, normal weight, overweight, obese or morbidly obese. This calculator from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will help you figure out your BMI.
- Find ways to be active every day. Start slowly and add more activity until you get to at least 30 minutes of physical activity, like a brisk walk, five days a week.
- Keep track of your progress to help you reach your goals. Use your phone, a printed log, online tracker, app, or other device to record your weight, what you eat and drink, and how long you are active.
- Get your friends and family involved by asking them to support your changes. You can also join a diabetes prevention program to meet other people who are making similar changes.
“Preventing diabetes is very important because high blood sugar levels can lead to a host of health problems, such as heart disease, kidney disease, stroke, eye problems, nerve damage and foot problems,” Dr. Burroughs says. “Prediabetes is not something to ignore. If your doctor tells you that you have prediabetes, treat it as a wake-up call to warn you to make lifestyle changes to protect your health.”