Prediabetes occurs when you have higher-than-average blood sugar levels, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and having it ups your risk for developing type 2 diabetes as well as heart disease and stroke. But knowing how to control prediabetes may help you avoid these health issues.
Fortunately, having prediabetes doesn't guarantee further diagnoses down the line. In fact, you can reverse prediabetes (and thus delay or prevent type 2 diabetes) with consistent lifestyle changes like eating a nutritious diet, moving your body and managing stress, per the CDC.
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But overhauling your lifestyle overnight is no small feat. Instead, making small, sustainable changes over time can help you stick to your prediabetes management plan. Here are five doctor-recommended lifestyle tweaks to help you get started.
Rather than transforming your diet, exercise routine and lifestyle all at once, opt for smaller, more sustainable changes like eating fewer servings of certain foods, moving your body in the ways you love most and learning how to ask for help.
How to Control Prediabetes
"Prediabetes does not always need medical treatment — it's a warning sign to improve on your lifestyle," Deena Adimoolam, MD, a doctor on Summit Health's Weight Management team, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
So if you're wondering what to do for prediabetes, lifestyle changes can help you control the condition and potentially lower your blood sugar levels. Per the Mayo Clinic, prediabetes management strategies include:
- Eating nutritious foods
- Getting at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity a week (think: jogging, biking, gardening)
- Losing excess weight
- Controlling your cholesterol levels and blood pressure
- Quitting smoking
But remember — changing your lifestyle can take time and effort. Dr. Adimoolam recommends making sustainable changes and being patient with yourself while you develop these new habits so you have the best shot at long-term success.
Small Changes to Make After a Prediabetes Diagnosis
Not sure where to start? Here's how to manage and potentially reverse prediabetes with the help of five small lifestyle changes:
1. Learn What's in Your Food
The best diet for people with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes includes plenty of non-starchy vegetables (broccoli, carrots, cauliflower), fruits, protein and beneficial fats, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA).
But changing your entire diet overnight isn't always sustainable. Instead, start with a baby step: Learn how to identify the nutrients in the foods you already eat.
"The most important [thing] to me is learning about the nutrition in all the foods you consume by reading nutrition labels — especially how to identify carbs, sugars and hidden sugars," Dr. Adimoolam says.
Getting more familiar with the ingredients in your meals can help you identify which foods will best support your prediabetes management (the shorter the ingredient list, the better), and which ones (like those with a lot of added sugar) to replace with more nutritious alternatives.
2. Set Small and Realistic Dietary Goals
Similarly, instead of revamping your whole diet at once, Dr. Adimoolam suggests setting small goals that you feel you can realistically achieve. For example: "Instead of drinking three sodas daily, cut back to one and then, over time, cut back to even less," she says.
Here's another: "If rice is a staple food in your diet and culture, cutting rice completely will likely be difficult for you. Instead, eating less of it overall will be a more attainable goal."
3. Choose Joyful Movement
Along with a nutritious diet, physical movement is a common treatment recommendation for controlling prediabetes.
"Most adults with prediabetes have overweight or obesity," says Ruth Weinstock, MD, PhD, the president of medicine and science at the ADA. "Several diabetes prevention studies have shown that adopting a healthy lifestyle incorporating weight loss and physical activity can reduce the risk of progressing to diabetes."
But like dietary changes, suddenly adopting an entire fitness routine may feel like a big undertaking. Instead, incorporate activities you love into your weekly schedule — regardless of whether or not you consider them "exercise." This concept is called joyful movement and allows you to move your body in the ways you most enjoy.
Some examples of joyful movement include:
- Walking your dog
- Playing with your kids
- Evening or morning walks
- Roller skating
- Bike riding
Not only can engaging in joyful movement be fun, but it may also be more sustainable than forcing yourself to do exercises you dislike. Indeed, a September 2018 study in the International Journal of Qualitative Studies on Health and Well-being found that joy and passion are the strongest driving forces to get people physically active.
Other Benefits of Exercise
Activity isn't just helpful for weight loss and managing prediabetes — additional benefits of exercise include:
- Better sleep
- Improved mood
- Improved focus
- Better mobility
- It supports heart health
- It promotes bone health
4. Start Meditating
Managing stress is another key component when it comes to controlling prediabetes, according to the CDC. That's because there's a link between stress and blood sugar levels: Stress hormones can make your blood sugar rise or fall unpredictably, per the CDC.
If you're not sure where to begin with stress management, meditation may be a good place to start. Not only can it help reduce stress, but a meditation practice can also improve your coping skills, support emotional regulation and promote overall wellbeing, according to an April 2018 study in European Endocrinology.
There are numerous meditation techniques to pick from, so try some on for size to see which style feels the best to you. Options include:
- Mindfulness meditation
- Body scans
- Moving meditations like walking or yoga
- Guided meditation
You don't have to spend tons of time meditating to reap the benefits — consistently meditating for just a few minutes a day can help.
5. Remember That It's OK to Ask for Help
An October 2016 study in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research found that people with prediabetes and symptoms of depression had a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those with less depressive symptoms.
In other words, prioritizing your emotional and mental health is also diabetes prevention. If you feel distressed, sad or anxious after getting a prediabetes diagnosis, remember that it's OK to ask for help from your doctor, a mental health professional or your support system.
Not sure where to turn to for help? The ADA offers a year-long lifestyle program where you can work with coaches and join a peer support group to help you manage stress, increase your physical activity and make small changes to your diet.
- European Endocrinology: "Mind—Body Interactions and Mindfulness Meditation in Diabetes"
- Mayo Clinic:"Prediabetes"
- ADA: "Eating Well"
- CDC: "Diabetes and Mental Health"
- Journal of Psychosomatic Research: "Prediabetes, depressive and anxiety symptoms, and risk of type 2 diabetes: A community-based cohort study"
- International Journal of Qualitative Studies on Health and Well-being: "Movement perceived as chores or a source of joy: a phenomenological-hermeneutic study of physical activity and health"
- CDC: "The Surprising Truth About Prediabetes"
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.