Unfortunately, diabetes—particularly type 2 diabetes—is a common chronic illness in the United States. Approximately 34 million Americans have diabetes, and 88 million adults have prediabetes, according to data from the 2020 National Diabetes Statistics Report. Anyone can get diabetes and prediabetes, including children and teenagers.
When you have diabetes or prediabetes, you have too much glucose, or sugar, in your blood. Over time, these illnesses can cause significant health issues, including increased risk of heart disease, stroke, vision difficulties, and neuropathy (nerve damage). The longer you live with uncontrolled diabetes, the greater your risk of developing other health problems.
Currently, there is no cure for diabetes. However, you can prevent, and sometimes reverse, some types of diabetes and prediabetes by incorporating healthy lifestyle habits.
What Is Diabetes?
When you have diabetes, your blood sugar, or blood glucose, levels are too high. There are two types of diabetes—type 1 and type 2, and you also can be diagnosed with prediabetes.
For individuals with type 1 diabetes, their body doesn’t make insulin. In type 2 diabetes, your body doesn’t use insulin as well as it should, and as the disease progresses, you may not make enough insulin.
If you have prediabetes, your blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes. Unfortunately, prediabetes increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes and other health conditions.
Lastly, pregnant women can develop gestational diabetes, which may be due to changes in hormonal balances during pregnancy. Typically, your blood sugar levels will return to normal after you give birth. However, you will have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the future.
What Causes Diabetes?
The exact causes and why some people develop diabetes isn’t fully understood. That said, the causes and risk factors of type 1 and type 2 diabetes are different.
In type 1 diabetes, your immune system destroys beta cells in your pancreas that produce insulin. Without these cells, your body can’t produce the hormone insulin. Insulin regulates the levels of glucose in your body and helps your body use glucose for energy. Diet and lifestyle habits do not cause type 1 diabetes. Unfortunately, type 1 diabetes can’t be prevented. However, healthy lifestyle habits can help you manage and control symptoms.
In type 2 diabetes and prediabetes, you develop insulin resistance. Your body can’t produce enough insulin to combat this resistance, and glucose builds up in your bloodstream. It’s unclear at present why some people develop type 2 diabetes and prediabetes, but risk factors include:
- Being overweight
- Limited physical activity or exercise
- Family history
- Having high blood pressure
- Having high levels of triglycerides
- Low levels of “good” cholesterol
- Having a history of gestational diabetes
- Having polycystic ovary syndrome
Lifestyle Habits Can Help You Prevent and Manage Type 2 Diabetes and Prediabetes
While type 1 diabetes can’t be prevented, you can prevent or delay prediabetes and type 2 diabetes by incorporating healthy lifestyle habits. These habits can also help you manage and control symptoms of diabetes.
Fortunately, small lifestyle changes can benefit your health and help you manage your diabetes or prediabetes. Here are five small lifestyle habits you can begin incorporating today to help you manage, or even prevent, prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.
1. Increase your daily physical activity
Being physically active can help you manage diabetes and reduce your risk of developing it. Unfortunately, many adults find it hard to fit regular exercise into their day. Many people also find themselves sitting for long periods throughout the day, which increases their risk of chronic diseases like diabetes.
While the recommended amount of physical activity for adults is at least 150 minutes of moderately vigorous exercise every week, any increase in your physical activity levels will benefit your health. If you’re not used to exercising, incorporate your physical activity slowly and talk to your doctor first.
If you’re struggling to incorporate more activity into your everyday life, consider:
- Planning to exercise for a short amount of time, such as 10 minutes a day, and then gradually increase the amount or add in additional 10-minute time blocks during the day
- Asking a friend or family member to go on a walk, bike ride, or other activity a few times a week, as that social support can help you build and maintain the new habit
- Setting a timer so you get up and stretch or move around for at least a couple of minutes every hour during your workday
- Making exercise fun by trying a new sport or doing activities you used to enjoy, such as tennis, gardening, swimming, or yoga
2. Maintain a healthy weight
If you’re overweight or obese, you’re at increased risk of developing diabetes and other chronic health conditions, like heart disease. If you’re unsure of what is a healthy weight for you, consider talking with your doctor.
Exercising and eating nutritious foods are two of the best ways to maintain a healthy weight. Fortunately, small changes to your eating can have a significant impact on your health and weight.
If you’re trying to make changes to your eating habits, consider:
- Increasing how much fiber you eat each day by eating more beans, whole-grains like quinoa and oatmeal instead of refined grains, and high-fiber fruits and vegetables
- Adding one additional serving of vegetable or fruit at every meal
- Reducing the amount of added sugar you use each day, such as cutting back on the number of sugar-sweetened beverages you drink each week
- Eating less processed red meats, such as bacon, hot dogs, or deli meat, each week and choosing skinless poultry or fish instead
- Plan your week’s meals so that you’re less likely to grab a highly-processed snack or meal
- Writing down your blood sugar levels and what you ate to help you understand how different foods impact your body
3. Add stress management strategies to your routine
Research has found a connection between general emotional stress and increased risk of type 2 diabetes. High levels of stress can also increase your risk of high blood pressure and heart disease.
Fortunately, incorporating stress management strategies doesn’t have to be time-consuming and can help you when life throws a difficult or stressful situation your way. When trying different stress management strategies, you may want to try a variety of techniques to discover the best options for you.
If you struggle with stress, consider:
- Practicing deep breathing techniques for a few minutes each day
- Starting a meditation practice
- Journaling to provide an outlet to think through your thoughts and feelings
- Talking with a trusted person in your social support network
- Taking regular walks or other physical activity
Small Lifestyle Changes Can Help You Prevent and Manage Diabetes
Finding the right combination of treatments, whether medications or lifestyle changes, can be a process. Regardless of your treatment approach or type of diabetes, making small healthy lifestyle changes can help you manage and control your blood sugar levels. These changes can also help reduce your risk of other chronic conditions.
When making lifestyle changes, try focusing on small changes to build your confidence and motivation. You can improve your blood sugar levels and health with small changes to how you eat, your level of physical activity, or how you manage stress. You can turn those changes into lasting habits and routines for a healthier lifestyle.