1 in 3 Has Pre- diabetes. Can You Beat It?

February 13, 2017

One in three. That’s how many American adults now have pre-diabetes, or elevated blood sugars indicating risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

The surprising truth behind this scary statistic?

You don’t need superhuman strength – or a miraculous medication – to reverse pre-diabetes. In most cases, sensible lifestyle changes can do the trick.

That’s the finding of a research study, the Diabetes Prevention Program, which looked at 3,200 patients with pre-diabetes.

Those who participated in intensive lifestyle intervention – improving their diet and exercise – saw a 58% reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes. And those age 60 and older who made similar diet and exercise changes had a 71% reduction.

Those who received doctor-prescribed metformin – a medication that lowers blood sugar – saw just a 31% reduction.

The results were so striking, the study was ended early so all participants could be moved into the intensive lifestyle intervention group. The same curriculum developed for the Diabetes Prevention Program study is now offered at YMCAs across the nation.

That information should be encouraging. “You have the power,” said Ashley Manhart, RN, MSN, CDE, a certified diabetes educator with CHI Health. She says the actions you take today, tomorrow and the next day can brighten your future. And you’ll probably feel better in the process.

Still, change in any part of your life requires motivation – often beyond the goal of achieving better health. The first step for Manhart, when she’s seeing new patients, is to discuss what would drive them to take action. “I like to work with patients and assess what’s valuable to them,” she said.

Perhaps it’s being fit enough to play with grandchildren. “Maybe it’s doing household tasks without feeling short of breath,” Manhart said. “We have to figure out what motivates people.”

The next step is developing an action plan. The American Association of Diabetes Educators’ (AADE) self-care behaviors include healthy eating, being active, monitoring, taking medication, problem solving, healthy coping and reducing risk.

“When patients feel overwhelmed with the need to change a lot at once, I encourage them to focus on one of these seven behaviors at a time so it doesn’t feel so overwhelming,” Manhart said.

Incremental steps that can put distance between you and type 2 diabetes:

  • Control your environment – particularly what’s in your pantry. “I ask patients: What is in your house right now?” Manhart said.
  • Add fruits and vegetables to your diet. “That’s vital when you’re focusing on weight loss,” she said. “I tell patients: You go home and eat more…of the right foods.”
  • Plan healthy meals. “Designate a small amount of time on Sunday evenings for food planning and preparation,” Manhart said. “That can mean going to the grocery store, planning meals or portioning out meals for the week in Tupperware containers.”
  • Take up a hobby that gets you moving, like bowling, bicycle riding or tennis.
  • Add brisk walks and other activities until you reach 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic exercise. “Don’t go more than two consecutive days without exercise,” she said.
  • Take notice when you lose a little weight or start feeling better. “That motivates patients to keep going,” Manhart said.

Even with progress, sustaining change can be challenging. “That’s when it’s important to have a support system in place that’s going to help motivate you to stay on track to reaching your long-term goals,” Manhart said.

“It could be a friend or relative. It could be a coworker. But a lot of people find it helpful if it’s someone who’s engaging in healthy behaviors as well, because that creates a sense of accountability. I ask patients: who is going to support you? Who will help you continue moving forward when you feel like you’ve fallen back a step?”

Those with pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes can also take advantage of diabetes support groups at CHI Health facilities, including Creighton University Medical Center – Bergan Mercy in Omaha, Neb., Midlands Hospital in Papillion, Neb., and Mercy Hospital in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

For more information, see our Diabetes Education page.