Prediabetes: Changes You Can Make

Medically Reviewed by Gabriela Pichardo, MD on June 12, 2022
4 min read

If you have prediabetes, you’re not alone. More than 1 in 3 American adults have it. It means your blood sugar is higher than normal, but it’s not so high that you have diabetes. It’s usually a sign that your body doesn’t use insulin very well. That’s the hormone that helps your body turn glucose, or sugar, into energy.

A diagnosis of prediabetes doesn’t mean you’re destined to get type 2 diabetes. You can still make healthy lifestyle choices to prevent or delay type 2 diabetes. At the same time, these changes will lower your chances of heart disease and other health problems.

Here are some tips to get you started:

When you exercise, your body uses the sugar in your blood to fuel your workout. Over time, regular physical activity can lower your overall glucose levels. You’ll also become more sensitive to the insulin in your body. That means it’s easier for your muscles to tap into that glucose.

You should get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise. Aim for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. You don’t have to do anything too intense. You can:

  • Go for a brisk walk (at least 2.5 mph)
  • Try water aerobics
  • Take a dance class
  • Bike (slower than 10 mph)

You may want to add a couple of days of strength, or resistance, training. That’s when you use weight machines, free weights, your own body, or exercise bands to build muscle.

If you’re new to exercise, talk to your doctor about what’s safe for you.

Not everyone with prediabetes needs to lose weight. But if you’re overweight, shedding 5%-10% of your body weight can lower your chances of diabetes by more than half.

You may wonder if being overweight or obese causes diabetes. That’s something experts are still trying to figure out. What they do know is that extra body fat, especially around your belly, sends out hormones that affect your appetite and cause inflammation. The cells that help you use insulin may get hurt in the process. Some experts think losing that central fat may help you get better control of your blood sugar.

You should stay away from ultra-processed foods with a lot of added sugar. That’s items like soda, chips, cookies, or anything with refined white flour. Those foods have little to no nutrients, and they’ll cause your blood sugar to spike.

Try to add more:

It’s not always easy to eat healthy. It might be easier if you start with little changes like:

  • Eat smaller portions.
  • Skip soda and juice.
  • Add one vegetable to your dinner.
  • Roast or bake food instead of deep-frying.
  • Use olive oil instead of lard or butter.
  • Eat a meat-free meal each week.

Some healthy eating plans that can lower your chances of diabetes include:

If you’re not sure how to plan your meals, ask your doctor. They can refer you to a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN). That’s a professional who’s trained to help you find healthy ways to eat. Most importantly, they’ll want to come up with a plan you can stick to.

Studies show sleep loss can make it harder to control your blood sugar and your appetite. That may be why your chances of obesity and type 2 diabetes go up if you sleep less than 5-6 hours a night. Your chances are also higher if the quality of your sleep is bad.

If you have ongoing sleep problems, you should skip your afternoon caffeine. You’ll also want to avoid alcohol close to bedtime. Both can disrupt your slumber. If that doesn’t help, talk to your doctor. They can help treat your insomnia.

Studies show people who smoke have a higher chance of prediabetes than nonsmokers. High levels of nicotine make it harder for your body to use insulin. Cigarette smoking also damages your cells in a way that experts think leads to diabetes. It’s important to talk to your doctor about how to quit.

Your doctor can test your blood sugar to see how you’re doing. They’ll let you know if your lifestyle changes are working or if you need to add medicine, like metformin, to help control your blood sugar.

It’s important to know that prediabetes doesn’t always come with symptoms. That means you can have it and not know it. If you’re concerned, bring it up with your doctor at your annual checkup.

There are some things that make you more likely to get prediabetes. You may want to get your blood sugar checked if you’re:

If you find out you have prediabetes, your doctor will let you know what steps to take next. They may suggest a CDC-approved way to prevent type 2 diabetes called a Lifestyle Change Program. If you’re interested, you can find a program near you.