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Prevent diabetes with this 5-step prediabetes action plan

Woman with prediabetes stretching and exercising to prevent diabetes

Type 2 diabetes doesn’t have to be in your future. Take these steps to help manage your blood sugar and possibly reverse prediabetes.

If you have prediabetes, you may have a lot of questions. Having prediabetes means that your blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but they’re not high enough to be considered diabetes. It’s a warning sign that you could develop type 2 diabetes in the future.1 (Diabetes is a condition that affects how your body converts food into energy.)

However, that doesn’t mean prediabetes is inevitable.

Think of prediabetes as a wake-up call,” says Lauren Spradling, RD. She’s a Chicago-based dietitian and health coach with RVO Health. “You need to make some changes. You may have had this curveball thrown your way. But you get to control what happens next.”

How likely is it that you’ll develop diabetes later? That depends on many things, such as your age, family history and what your health is like currently. But there’s a lot you can do right now to delay or eliminate the chance of getting it.

Here are five steps you can take to start turning things around.

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Step 1: Build your support team

So, let’s say you have prediabetes. Where do you start? Your doctor will be an important part of your care team. They’ll work with you to create a health plan. Nurses and other providers at their office can also help.

Your health plan may cover meetings with a dietitian, too. These nutrition experts can help you make diet and lifestyle changes to help lower your blood sugar. Tell your doctor you’d like to see one.

You’ll probably need to see your doctor more often. That way, they can keep track of your blood sugar levels and other measures of your health.

You are also part of your care team, so you’ll be doing your own tracking. Your care team can let you know what things you should keep an eye on, which may include:

  • Checking your blood sugar
  • Staying on top of any symptoms
  • Keeping tabs on your blood pressure
  • Monitoring your weight

Know how to reach the key people on your team and keep them updated. Every check-in is a chance to make progress, solve problems and get motivated.

Friends and family can also be part of your care team. Making changes can be way easier when you have lots of supportive people on your side. Recruit loved ones to join you on a daily walk. Or try new healthy recipes together. More nutritious choices can help the whole family.

Looking for a doctor who gets you? We have more than 60,000 doctors at more than 2,000 sites. Our team will help you get the care you need, when and where you need it. Find care near you.

Step 2: Find a prevention program

One of the best ways to prevent diabetes is to get help from a Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP). It’s a yearlong program that you can join in person or online. You’ll get support from peers and a health coach, and learn strategies to:

The results can be powerful. DPP participants who lost weight and exercised more cut their risk of diabetes by more than half.2 Even 10 years later, they were one-third less likely to develop diabetes than those who did not join a program.

Your care team can help you find a program near you. Many are free or covered by your insurance. There is also a Medicare DPP for older adults. Best of all, it’s free if you have Medicare Part B.

Step 3: Get moving more

Exercise is a powerful tool for lowering blood sugar. Your muscles burn extra sugar from your blood while moving. Also, regular exercise can help keep your blood sugar levels down over time. In addition, it can help you lose weight, which can lead to lower blood sugar.3

Experts suggest getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a week.4 That’s any type of movement that gets your heart beating faster. Examples include a brisk walk or a game of pickleball.

Does 30 minutes sound like a lot? You can break activities into smaller chunks of time that fit into your day more easily. Pick an activity you enjoy that works with your life, adds Spradling. And make it rewarding. For example, listen to an audiobook while taking a walk. Or watch your favorite show when you’re on your exercise bike. Track your progress by how many seasons of a certain show you get through. (Find more tips for living an active life here.)

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Step 4: Eat wisely and well

What you eat also has a big impact on your blood sugar. A healthy eating plan may help lower your blood sugar and help you manage your weight, says Spradling. Here are some ways to get started. You can:

  • Find out what and how much you’re eating. Start by getting a snapshot of what you’re eating now. This will help you and your care team figure out what to change and how to set goals. Record everything you eat for a few days. You can use a smartphone app or pen and paper. Talk about the results with your doctor or nurse, dietitian or DPP health coach. It might be an “aha” moment that gets you to change your habits for the better.
     
  • Cut back on sweets with added sugar. Sugar in your blood comes from carbohydrates (carbs) in foods. Cutting back on sweets and sugary drinks can make a big difference. These carbs can spike your blood sugar. And their empty calories can lead to weight gain.5
     
  • Eat more fiber-rich carb foods. You don’t have to cut all foods with carbs in them. Whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables contain carbs. But they’re also a great source of fiber. And eating more fiber can help manage your blood sugar.5 Try swapping refined grain foods, like white bread, for whole grain foods, like whole wheat bread.
     
  • Fill at least half your plate with vegetables. Almost all vegetables contain important nutrients and fiber. They’re also lower in calories and carbs. Loading up on vegetables can lower your blood sugar and help you lose weight.
     
  • Get some protein in most of your meals. Protein helps slow the rate at which carbs enter your bloodstream, says Spradling. This helps control blood sugar after meals. She likes to build her meals around proteins and vegetables. One idea: top a salad with cooked chicken.

Check out our complete guide to healthy eating for more tips.

Step 5: Get the right amount of sleep

Sleep is often overlooked when it comes to diabetes prevention. But too little sleep can affect your blood sugar. And it can even raise your risk of diabetes.6 It also saps your energy. And that can make it harder to stay on track with healthy habits, says Spradling.

“When you get a good night’s sleep, you tend to feel better,” she says. “You have more energy to work out. You also tend to have fewer food cravings. It can really have a ripple effect.”

If you have trouble sleeping, it’s time to make it a priority. These tips can help:7

  • Get some exercise every day.
  • Stay away from caffeine (if you’re sensitive to it) and alcohol late in the day.
  • Try to go to bed and wake up around the same time each day.
  • Work with your doctor to rule out other issues, such as sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome.

These first steps can get you started on a path to feeling better in the long term. Some days will be tougher than others. But you will make progress.

“You can change,” says Spradling. “And you don’t have to make a giant change to start seeing results.”

Sources

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prediabetes — Your Chance to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes. Last reviewed December 30, 2022. Accessed March 29, 2023.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Why Participate? Last reviewed: December 27, 2022. Accessed March 9, 2023.
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Get Active! Last reviewed November 3, 2022. Accessed February 21, 2023.
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How much physical activity do adults need? Last reviewed June 2, 2022. Accessed February 21, 2023.
  5. American Diabetes Association. Get to know carbs. n.d. Accessed March 29, 2023.
  6. National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. The impact of poor sleep on type 2 diabetes. Published March 17, 2021. Accessed February 21, 2023.
  7. Sleep Foundation. Lack of sleep and diabetes. Last updated: January 6, 2023. Accessed February 21, 2023.

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Consult your doctor prior to beginning an exercise program or making changes to your lifestyle or health care routine.

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