Can You Prevent Diabetes With Diet and Exercise?

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Diabetes mellitus (commonly known as “diabetes”) means your blood sugar (or glucose) levels are elevated because your body doesn’t use insulin correctly. Instead of properly applying sugar in the cells for energy, the glucose can build up in your bloodstream, leading to diabetes.

A diabetes diagnosis can lead to significant health consequences, including damage to your heart, kidneys, nerves, and feet.

You can control certain aspects of your health in an effort to prevent diabetes. Maintaining an active lifestyle, as well as eating nutritious foods help a number of risk factors, though there are other factors you can't regulate. These include a family history of diabetes, gender, race, age, and the presence of antibodies that attack your body’s organs.

What You Need to Know About Diabetes

Health care professionals diagnose several types of diabetes; the most common being type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Other types include gestational, drug or chemical-induced diabetes, and cystic fibrosis-related diabetes.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately one in 10
people have diabetes in the U.S. About one in five don’t know they have the disease, which makes testing vital, especially if you notice any of the following symptoms:

  • Exhaustion
  • Increased thirst
  • Blurry vision
  • Slow-healing injuries
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Frequent urination
  • Tingling feet or hands
  • Dry mouth

If you have any of the above symptoms, you should contact a health care professional right away for non-invasive testing.

Type 1 Diabetes

Nearly 1.6 million Americans have type 1 diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. This kind of diabetes generally begins at childhood or young adulthood (although type 1 can appear at any age).

Causes of type 1 diabetes include genetics, viruses, and lack of insulin. A blood test can determine if you have type 1 diabetes. This diagnosis requires insulin treatment.

Type 1 diabetes isn't a grave diagnosis. Inventors of equipment used to measure and insert insulin into your body have made powerful strides in the past number of years. Now, type 1 diabetics can maintain better control over their levels than they could in the past.

Type 1 does not have a cure, but there is hope. The Diabetes Research Institute researchers are working toward a biological cure, which would help the body start producing its own insulin and restoring blood sugar levels to normal ranges.

Type 2 Diabetes

More than 95 percent of people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes. The most common demographic for a type 2 diabetes diagnosis is people more than 45 years of age.

In type 2 diabetes, your body resists insulin and can’t use energy from food in the way it should. This causes sugar to build up in your blood.


Approximately one in three adults has prediabetes. Prediabetes is a precursor to diabetes; your blood sugar levels are higher where they should fall, but they aren’t high enough for a diabetes diagnosis. Anyone with prediabetes can develop type 2 diabetes, but making immediate changes to your lifestyle has the ability to hinder its advancement.

If you fall into any of the categories below, you should get checked by a health care professional who can administer a fasting blood sugar or glucose tolerance test:

  • Family history of diabetes
  • Medical conditions that include obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, had a stroke, and/or high cholesterol
  • Not maintaining levels of activity recommended by your healthcare provider.

Prevention of Diabetes Through Diet and Exercise

You can’t prevent type 1 diabetes with diet and exercise; in fact, you can’t prevent this type at all. This autoimmune disease involves your body attacking itself, and no amount of work on your part will stave off type 1 diabetes. You should speak with a health care professional if you have a family history of type 1 diabetes or if you notice warning signs.

You may be able to deter a type 2 or prediabetes diagnosis through preventative techniques that incorporate an active lifestyle, healthy food choices, and weight management.


Regular physical activity and healthy weight management will both work to lower your blood sugar levels, a key aspect of diabetes prevention.

According to the American Heart Association, you should aim for 30 minutes of exercise five days a week. If you don’t work out on a regular basis, start slowly and build up to 30 minutes. If you're nervous about changing your activity level or unsure of where to start, speak with a health care professional on the types of exercise that would work best for your current fitness level. Here are some examples:


In a study on walking to prevent type 2 diabetes, researchers recommend adults avoid averaging less than 5,000 steps per day and instead, work to average at least 7,500 steps per day of which at least 3,000 (representing about 30 minutes) be taken at a rate of at least 100 steps per minute. People should also break up long periods of sitting with physical activity. Simply, the researchers say to “walk more, sit less, and exercise.”


A published review of research on yoga preventing diabetes mellitus type 2 suggests that the practice of yoga might reduce insulin resistance, as well as help curtail complications and improve a diabetes prognosis.


According to the CDC, this moderate-intensity physical activity works large muscles, increases heart rate, causes you to breathe harder, and makes your body more sensitive to insulin.

Strength Training

The American Diabetes Association, in a position statement, says to include exercises with free weights, weight machines, and body weight in your workout regime to help with glucose management.


Eating well can help decrease your risk of type 2 diabetes and prediabetes. You should consider incorporating these tips into your daily eating habits:

Mediterranean Diet

A 2020 study on the Mediterranean diet and type 2 diabetes prevention found that each component of the Mediterranean diet could be involved in a 20 percent reduction in diabetes risk. The researchers say that a Mediterranean diet “consists of a daily abundance of vegetables, a variety of minimally processed whole grain bread, and other cereals and legumes as the staple food, nuts, and seeds.” They also say fresh fruit should be the daily dessert, with honey and nuts consumed on special occasions.

Keep a Food Diary

Documenting what you eat may encourage you to make healthier choices. It also gives you the ability to look back on what you've eaten and understand what food choices make you feel your best.

Drink More Water

Drinking enough water is not only important for your overall health, but it may encourage you to drink less sugary beverages.

Limit Your Alcohol Intake

Men should drink no more than two alcoholic beverages a day and women should drink no more than one. In a study promoted by Harvard Health, researchers found that middle-aged men who drank alcohol actually reduced their risk of developing type 2 diabetes with one or two daily servings of beer or wine.

Eat Colorful Food

You should have a rainbow of colors from each food group on your plate. This includes whole grains, lean proteins, fruits, and vegetables, and foods with healthy fats

Consume Less Sugar

The American Heart Association recommends six teaspoons of sugar a day for women and nine teaspoons a day for men.

Weight Management

Additionally, managing your weight is an important component of keeping type 2 diabetes at bay. You may be able to prevent or delay diabetes by losing five to seven percent of your starting weight. For instance, if you weigh 200 pounds, your goal would be to lose about 10 to 14 pounds,” according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Extra weight can also raise your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, elevate your risk of cardiovascular disease, and allow fat to build up in your liver—all of which can make you more susceptible to type 2 diabetes.

A Word from Verywell

If you are concerned about diabetes, speak with a health care provider to evaluate your lifestyle and decide on valuable measures you can take to delay or prevent type 2 diabetes and prediabetes.

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Article Sources
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