Simple Lifestyle Changes for Pre-Diabetics

Maybe you'd been feeling tired a lot of the time. Or perhaps you just didn't feel like yourself. A visit to the doctor gave you the diagnosis you didn't want to hear: pre-diabetes.

In pre-diabetes, blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes, according to the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP), a large multicenter clinical research study.  Pre-diabetes is also called impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) or impaired fasting glucose (IFG), depending on the test used to measure blood glucose levels. Anyone with pre-diabetes is at a higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes in the next 10 years, and they're also at increased risk for developing cardiovascular disease.

It's a condition that's definitely getting more common in the United States. About one in four people aged 20 years or older (about 57 million people) had pre-diabetes in 2007, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

How Does This Differ from Fullblown Diabetes?

"These days diabetes is defined as anything over 126 for a fasting blood sugar," says Dr. Stephen Schneider, endocrinologist at Robert Wood Johnson Medical Center in New Brunswick, New Jersey. "But we know that anyone with a fasting blood sugar over 105 is at an increased risk for developing diabetes."

If you wonder whether diet and exercise can help you, Schneider points out the findings of the Diabetes Prevention Program. In the study, participants who lost 5 to 7 percent of their body weight and who exercised about 150 minutes a week decreased their risk of getting diabetes in the next 10 years by 60 percent, he says. "A number of other studies have duplicated these results," Schneider says. "And these are relatively modest lifestyle changes. A 200-pound person would need to lose just 10 pounds."

Changes to Make if You're Pre-Diabetic

"If you have been told that overweight is contributing to your risk of developing diabetes, increase your exercise and improve your weight," says Caroline Bohl, diabetes educator and registered dietitian at the Naomi Berrie Center for Diabetes at New York Presbyterian Hospital. "This can hold off diabetes or sometimes prevent it."

Bump up consumption of lean protein (like chicken and fish) and vegetables, Bohl says. Be smart about carbs: choose whole grains because they don't raise the blood sugar as quickly as carbs made with white flour and sugar, Bohl says.

Exercise for half an hour a day. "It must be brisk enough to get your pulse up but it doesn't mean you have to run a marathon or lift heavy weights," Schneider says. Frequency of exercise is more important than the intensity, he says. "You can't exercise once a week and expect results," he says.

One way to increase exercise is simply to be more active in your everyday life,  according to the Diabetes Prevention Program. Try walking around while you talk on the phone. Clean the house, wash the car, work in the garden, rake leaves, and park at the far end of the shopping center parking lot and walk to your store. Take the dog for a walk, play with the kids, and purposely stretch out your chores. For instance, make two trips to the laundry room instead of just one.

Other good forms of exercise to consider include aerobic exercise, strength training and stretching.