Advertisement

7 Lifestyle Changes to Reduce Diabetes Risk

More than 30 million Americans have type 2 diabetes. Lower your odds of developing the condition with these smart ideas.

Medically reviewed in November 2021

cooking with an ipad
1 / 8

Type 2 diabetes makes up 90 to 95 percent of diabetes cases and affects more than 30 million Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Over time, the disease can harm your eyes, kidneys and cardiovascular system and raise your risk for many other conditions. Every year in the United States, more than 80,000 people die of diabetes, and experts believe it plays a significant role in thousands of additional deaths.

While you can’t control some risk factors for diabetes—such as family history and age—you can lower the chances of developing it by making smart lifestyle choices. Try these strategies to boost your health, reduce your risk and improve your overall quality of life.

husband cooking breakfast
2 / 8
ALTER YOUR EATING

Your diet is linked to your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Being mindful of the foods you choose to eat can go a long way to preventing the disease. At each meal, load half of your plate with fruits and veggies; a small piece of fruit or 1/2 cup of fruit salad is a great addition to non-starchy vegetables such as broccoli, mushrooms and zucchini. Then, fill the rest with 3 ounces of lean protein such as chicken or salmon, as well as 100 percent whole grains, like quinoa, brown rice or barley. Limit or avoid high-fat, fried or processed foods.

couple jogging with dog
3 / 8
MOVE MORE

Inactivity is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Adults should get 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity each week. They should also do muscle-strengthening activities of at least moderate intensity a minimum of two days per week.

Adding movement to your day doesn’t mean spending hours at the gym or setting out on a 5-mile run (unless that’s something you enjoy). You can do it throughout the day at work, at home and even while you’re watching television. Not sure where to start? Try these ideas:

  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Put on music and dance while you vacuum.
  • Walk the dog for a few extra minutes.
  • Hand deliver a message to a neighbor or co-worker’s desk.
woman on a scale
4 / 8
LOSE A FEW POUNDS

Being overweight or obese is the primary risk factor for type 2 diabetes. If you’re carrying excess weight, dropping a few pounds could reduce your risk. In fact, the landmark Diabetes Prevention Program study found that participants who lost about 7 percent of their total weight decreased their risk of diabetes by almost 60 percent.

A healthy diet and exercise are a tried and true prescription for slimming down, but it’s important to consult your healthcare provider (HCP) before embarking on a weight loss journey.

crushed cigarette
5 / 8
KICK THE SMOKING HABIT

Cigarette smoking harms nearly every organ in your body and increases the risk of lung cancer, heart disease, cataracts—and type 2 diabetes. In fact, smokers are about 30 to 40 percent more likely to develop diabetes than nonsmokers. Smoking puts strain on your body’s cells in the form of inflammation and oxidative stress, both of which are linked to elevated risk.

The solution? It’s time to quit. Speak with your HCP about a plan to stop smoking or head to reputable resources like Smokefree.gov or the American Cancer Society for more information.

pouring red wine
6 / 8
SIP RESPONSIBLY

While too much alcohol can add empty calories to your diet and increase your chances of developing type 2 diabetes, some research suggests that moderate drinking—red wine, especially—may be linked to a lower risk of diabetes, as well as heart disease. This isn’t definitive, however, and more studies are needed to examine the relationship. In fact, even in moderation, alcohol can have adverse health effects, such as increasing your odds of some cancers.

So, if you don’t drink, don’t start. If you do imbibe, speak with your HCP about what’s best for you.

taking blood pressure
7 / 8
CHECK YOUR NUMBERS

Regularly having your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels checked is important for everyone. But knowing these numbers and what they mean is especially important for people at risk of diabetes, since hypertension, high cholesterol or higher-than-normal blood sugar levels increase the odds of developing the condition.

So, what’s normal? Numbers vary from person to person, and your HCP will tell you if there is cause for concern. Generally, you might be at risk of type 2 diabetes if any of the following apply:

  • Your blood pressure is 140/90 mm Hg or higher
  • Your HDL cholesterol is lower than 40 mg/dL for men and 50 mg/dL for women
  • Your triglyceride level is higher than 200 mg/dL
  • Your fasting blood sugar levels exceed 100 mg/dL
using an ipad
8 / 8
GET EDUCATED

Type 2 diabetes is a serious condition that can harm your body and even lead to an early death. Learning your risks is the first step to preventing the disease. Reach out to your HCP to find out more and remember to attend regular well visits to monitor your health. Together, you can make the best decisions for your well-being.

Sources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Type 2 Diabetes.” Reviewed May 30, 2019. Accessed August 11, 2020.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “National Diabetes Statistics Report 2020: Estimates of Diabetes and Its Burden in the United States.” 2020. Accessed August 11, 2020.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “How much physical activity do adults need?” Reviewed May 14, 2020. Accessed August 11, 2020.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Smoking and Diabetes.” Reviewed March 23, 2020. Accessed August 11, 2020.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Alcohol and Cancer.” Reviewed July 8, 2019. Accessed August 11, 2020.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Getting Your Cholesterol Checked.” Reviewed January 31, 2020. Accessed August 11, 2020.
Mayo Clinic. “Type 2 Diabetes.” January 9, 2019. Accessed August 11, 2020.
Mayo Clinic. “Diabetes prevention: 5 tips for taking control.” March 15, 2019. Accessed August 11, 2020.
Mayo Clinic. “Weight loss: Diet and exercise.” October 10, 2019. Accessed August 11, 2020.
Mayo Clinic. “Diabetes.” August 8, 2018. Accessed August 11, 2020.
American Diabetes Association. “Life doesn’t end with type 2 diabetes.” 2020. Accessed August 11, 2020.  
American Diabetes Association. “Tips and Meal Planning.” 2020. Accessed August 11, 2020.
American Diabetes Association. “Protein.” 2020.  Accessed August 11, 2020.
American Diabetes Association. “Eat good to feel good.” 2020. Accessed August 11, 2020.
American Diabetes Association. “Learn the Genetics of Diabetes.” 2020. Accessed August 11, 2020.
American Diabetes Association. “Conquer High Blood Pressure.” 2020. Accessed August 11, 2020.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans: 2nd Edition.” 2018. Accessed August 11, 2020.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. “Preventing Type 2 Diabetes.” December 2016. Accessed August 11, 2020.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. “Choose More than 50 Ways to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes.” September 2014. Accessed August 11, 2020.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. “Risk Factors for Type 2 Diabetes.” November 2016. Accessed August 11, 2020.
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Simple Steps to Preventing Diabetes.” 2020. Accessed August 11, 2020.
MedlinePlus. “Smoking.” 2020. Accessed August 11, 2020.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “Cigarette Smoking: A Risk Factor for Type 2 Diabetes.” May 4, 2020. Accessed August 11, 2020.
J Huang, X Wang, Y Zhang. “Specific types of alcoholic beverage consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes: A systematic review and meta‐analysis.” Journal of Diabetes Investigation. Published online May 10, 2016.
American Heart Association. “Understand Your Risk for Diabetes.” August 30, 2015. Accessed August 11, 2020.
Cleveland Clinic. “Cholesterol Numbers: What Do They Mean.” Last reviewed July 31, 2020. Accessed August 11, 2020.

 

More On

My Story: Elsy and Type 2 Diabetes

video

My Story: Elsy and Type 2 Diabetes
Elsy shares the story of her type 2 diabetes diagnosis, how she is managing and ultimately hopes to reverse diabetes.
6 Warning Signs of Diabetes

article

6 Warning Signs of Diabetes
As many as 35 million people in America have type 2 diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Another 96 million ha...
6 Foods That Won’t Cause Your Blood Sugar to Spike

slideshow

6 Foods That Won’t Cause Your Blood Sugar to Spike
People living with type 2 diabetes can eat these foods with confidence.
3 Reasons to Try a T2D Self-Management Education Program

video

3 Reasons to Try a T2D Self-Management Education Program
A type 2 diabetes diagnosis comes with many lifestyle changes, and it can be difficult to know where and how to start. Watch this video to learn how a...
What Causes Diabetics to Develop Kidney Disease?

video

What Causes Diabetics to Develop Kidney Disease?
Kidney disease is a devastating and unfortunate result of diabetes in many cases. HealthMaker Daniel Kelly, MD, talks in this video about why diabetic...