Diabetes is a chronic health condition that affects the way your body processes sugars to use as energy. There are two types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2. Type 1 diabetes is a genetic condition where your body doesn’t make enough insulin, and it usually shows up earlier in your life.
Type 2 diabetes is primarily a lifestyle condition where your body cannot use insulin properly. It usually comes on because of an unhealthy diet when you are an adult. About 34 million people in the U.S. (1 in 10 people) have diabetes, and 90-95% of those have type 2 diabetes. When we talk about how to “prevent diabetes” with lifestyle adjustments, we’re referring to type 2.
Your body makes insulin, a hormone that helps cells use sugar for energy. When you have type 2 diabetes, your body becomes resistant to insulin. You still produce insulin, but it cannot get into your cells, so your blood sugar levels increase. This can be dangerous and cause several long-term health problems.
Since type 2 often results from an unhealthy lifestyle, you can prevent diabetes—or at least lower your risk—with some healthy habits.
An estimated 88 million Americans have prediabetes, and 70% will eventually develop type 2 diabetes. Prediabetes means you have high levels of sugar in your blood that a doctor can detect with a blood test. Get regular checkups and ask your doctor about your risks to understand how to reverse prediabetes.
One of the best ways to prevent type 2 diabetes is a healthy diet. Being overweight or obese puts you at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Extra weight, especially around your stomach, can create inflammation that leads to insulin resistance. Losing even 5-10% of your body weight (10 to 20 pounds for someone who weighs 200 pounds) can reduce your risk of developing diabetes.
You don’t need to do an extreme diet. Small changes, like reducing portion sizes or eating more fruits and veggies instead of processed foods like chips and candy, can make a big difference. Talk to your doctor about healthy weight loss options.
When you exercise, your cells need insulin to get energy and keep blood sugar levels under control, so exercise reduces insulin resistance. There is no one-size-fits-all exercise program to prevent diabetes. Choose what works for you, including aerobic (cardiovascular) exercise like walking or running, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), or strength training (lifting weights). Doctors recommend at least 30 minutes of exercise five days per week, for 150 minutes weekly. Get your heart rate up, so you are burning calories and getting the benefits of improved insulin function.
Drinking water improves overall health, reduces diabetes risk, and provides essential hydration for your cells. Sweetened drinks (soda, tea) and alcohol have a lot of sugar and other ingredients that can put you at higher risk of diabetes. Replacing them with water has many benefits for your body.
5. Quit smoking
Smoking can put you at higher risk of diabetes and other chronic conditions, like heart disease, lung cancer, and emphysema. An analysis of several extensive studies found that smoking increased a person’s risk of diabetes by 44% for average smokers and 61 percent for people who smoke more than 20 cigarettes a day. But quitting smoking immediately reduces your risk, and that risk continues to go down over time. One study of men who quit smoking showed they had the same diabetes risk 20 years after quitting as someone who never smoked.