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Diabetes Prevention

What Is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a medical condition that affects the body’s ability to produce or use insulin. It also affects blood sugar levels.

The three types of diabetes are type 1, type 2 and gestational diabetes. Type 1 diabetes affects the body’s ability to produce insulin. Type 2 diabetes affects the body’s ability to use insulin well. Gestational diabetes impacts the body’s ability to use blood sugar during pregnancy.

The cause of type 1 diabetes is not understood and at this time is not preventable. However, people trying to avoid type 2 diabetes may be able to engage in lifestyle changes that lower their risk.

Eat a Healthy Diet

Obesity is a major risk factor in type 2 diabetes. According to the National Diabetes Education Program, overweight people who lose 5 to 7 percent of their body weight can help prevent diabetes.

The first step in weight loss or weight maintenance to prevent diabetes is eating a healthy diet. This includes avoiding foods that are high in unhealthy fats and cholesterol in favor of fresh foods and whole-grain carbohydrate choices. Avoiding processed and pre-packaged foods can help.

Portion control is often an important aspect of eating a healthy diet. For example, a serving of meat or fish should be roughly the size of a deck of cards. However, most Americans eat significantly larger food amounts. By limiting excessive portions, people can cut calories to result in weight loss.


Exercise is the second part of the weight-loss plan for people trying to prevent type 2 diabetes. Engaging in at least 30 minutes of physical activity five days a week can help. However, people who don’t currently exercise may need to start in smaller intervals. This can include three 10-minute exercise sessions each day.

Exercise doesn’t have to be strenuous to be effective. Moderate, low-impact physical activity can help people achieve weight loss. Exercise examples can include:

  • dancing
  • riding a bicycle or stationary bicycle
  • swimming
  • taking an aerobics class
  • using an elliptical exercise machine
  • walking

If the activity gets the heart pumping, it can be effective in diabetes prevention.

Gestational diabetes increases a woman’s risk for getting type 2 diabetes. By taking steps to lose weight after giving birth in a slow, healthy way, women can reduce their risk. However, women should not begin exercising until their doctors given them the OK to begin.

Quit Smoking

Smokers are significantly more likely to have diabetes. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, smokers are 50 percent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than are people who don’t smoke. The more a person smokes, the higher their risk.

Quitting smoking is not easy. People who have developed the habit over time must work hard to break it. However, many helpful resources exist. People can call their state "quitline" at 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669). Many support groups exist to help people successfully quit. Nicotine patches and gums can also help to ease cravings. While quitting may take some time, it can reduce diabetes risk and improve overall health.

Avoid Excess Alcohol Intake

According to the Harvard School of Public Health, consuming excess alcohol increases diabetes risk.

However, moderate alcohol consumption in people who already drink alcohol may have protective effects against diabetes. Drinking a moderate amount of alcohol helps the body use blood glucose more effectively. For men, this is no more than two drinks per day. For women, moderate consumption is no more than one drink per day.

If you do not currently drink alcohol, you don’t have to start. A healthy lifestyle is an effective way of reducing diabetes risk.

Content licensed from:

Written by: Rachel Nall, RN, BSN
Medically reviewed on: Oct 20, 2014: George Krucik, MD, MBA

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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