Prediabetes Diagnosis Can Be A Start To a Healthier Life
Helen Hopkins went to see her doctor because she had not been feeling well. Hopkins, 42, said she had “pins and needles in my feet and hands, had put on weight, and was just generally lethargic.” She was surprised when her doctor told her that she was prediabetic.
“I knew there was something wrong but couldn’t quite believe the diagnosis,” Hopkins said in an interview with Well+Good.
Hopkins believes her lifestyle contributed to her diagnosis.
“I was brought up on the idea that the three Cs—cola, cake, and carbs—would help give an energy boost,” Hopkins said. “So whenever I was tired or stressed, and that was often, I reached for sugar.”
Health experts say that a sedentary lifestyle, consuming packaged and processed foods with added sugars and fats, and lack of regular exercise are factors that can lead to a prediabetes diagnosis.
Prediabetes means your blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Prediabetes can develop into type 2 diabetes, but not type 1 diabetes, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Approximately 96 million American adults—more than 1 in 3—have prediabetes, and 80 percent of people with this serious health condition do not know they have it, the CDC says. A prediabetes diagnosis is based on your blood sugar level. So, you may not know that you are prediabetic until your doctor checks your blood sugar level and gives you the diagnosis.
Prediabetes puts you at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. With type 2 diabetes, the body cannot use insulin as well as it should. As a result, too much blood sugar stays in the bloodstream, which over time, can cause heart disease, blindness, kidney disease, stroke, and other health problems.
Lifestyle Changes Reduces Risk of Prediabetes
The good news is prediabetes is reversible. You can prevent or delay prediabetes from turning into type 2 diabetes with simple, proven lifestyle changes, according to the CDC. And medical professionals say the two most important lifestyle changes that people with prediabetes can make involve diet and exercise. Research confirms this.
For example, a June 2020 study found that developing a lifestyle intervention strategy that involved setting goals, personalized diets with calorie recommendations, 180 minutes (three hours) of physical activity per week, meal replacement, and quarterly check-ups could reverse prediabetes. Findings from this study were published in the journal BMJ Open Diabetes Research, and Care.
A July 2017 meta-analysis of previous studies reported that aerobic exercise and strength training benefits the liver, pancreas, skeletal muscle, blood sugar levels, and cholesterol levels, as well as help with weight loss and cardiovascular fitness. In addition, the article published in the Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine stated that the body is more sensitive to insulin immediately after exercise and persists for up to 96 hours (four days).
Aerobic exercises can include walking briskly, climbing stairs, swimming, riding a bicycle or a stationary bicycle, taking an exercise class, or dancing. Resistance training exercises, such as using light free weights and resistance bands and doing sit-ups and squats, are also recommended.
Along with exercise, changing a healthy diet reduces the risk of prediabetes. The key is creating a meal plan that includes a variety of healthy foods from all food groups, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), which is part of the National Institutes of Health. The NIDDK recommended food groups include:
- Vegetables (nonstarchy: includes broccoli, carrots, greens, peppers, tomatoes)
- Fruits (oranges, melons, berries)
- Proteins (lean meat, chicken or turkey, fish, eggs, nuts and peanuts, dried beans)
- Dairy-nonfat or low fat (milk or lactose-free milk, yogurt, cheese)
Fried foods, foods high in saturated fat and trans fat, high-sodium foods, sweets, and beverages with added sugars should be avoided.
When it comes to exercising, the key for people with prediabetes is choosing a physical activity that they can enjoy, says Vanessa Haydock, a personal trainer, nutritional advisor, life coach, and Board Certified Behavior Analyst who also has type 1 diabetes.
With type 1 diabetes, the pancreas makes little or no insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas that moves blood sugar (glucose) into the body’s cells so it can be used for energy. Blood sugar is the body’s main source of energy. Type 1 diabetes is a genetic condition that presents itself earlier in life. In fact, it used to be called “juvenile diabetes.”
Haydock, known as the Diabetic Health Coach, says exercise is key to managing diabetes.
“People turn to me as someone who lives with the same condition,” Haydock told Well+Good. “Together, we find ways to break down barriers to exercise and slowly develop a new mindset to look after ourselves better—physically and mentally.”
Hopkins knew she had to make changes if she wanted her health to improve. But, making the changes would be tough since Hopkins was running her own business and raising a young family. This meant that carving time out of her busy schedule was not going to be easy. Nonetheless, Hopkins decided to follow her doctor’s advice of walking as a form of exercise. After a while, Hopkins established a walking routine and began taking more steps to a healthier life.
“Soon, I was walking crazy distances,” she says. Along with her physical health, Hopkins said that her mental health had improved enormously since she began walking. Now, Hopkins is an ultra walker, having completed 50 km events and trained for 100km ultra events.
“I feel that the prediabetic diagnosis was a gift. Becoming fitter and healthier gave me clarity,” Hopkins said. “I even started my own wellness business when I realized that there were so many other people in similar situations who I could help.”