In Australia, one person out of 20 has been diagnosed with diabetes. The number of people living with diabetes jumped almost 2.8-fold in the one-year period of 2020-2021 from less than half a million to 1.3 million. Many of these have been living with prediabetes for years and just didn’t know it.
What is Prediabetes?
Prediabetes is a term used when your blood sugar is higher than normal, but not high enough to be classified as type 2 diabetes. Your body is essentially not processing the sugar you consume in your diet correctly. Sugar normally enters the bloodstream once the food is digested and then travels outward to fuel all your cells. With prediabetes, the sugars accumulate in your blood instead.
Prediabetes is actually more common than you think – some 2.8 million people globally are estimated to be affected by prediabetes. The prevalence of prediabetes is also on the rise in Australia affecting nearly 1 in 6 people (or over 2 million) over the age of 25.
What Causes Prediabetes?
Prediabetes results from the combination of genetic and environmental factors that lead to abnormal blood sugar levels. Although you cannot alter our family history, you can make dramatic changes to your lifestyle habits. The common risk factors that can increase your risk of prediabetes (and type 2 diabetes) are:
- Being overweight or obese.
- Poor dietary habits
- Physical inactivity
- Family history of diabetes
- Older age
- History of gestational diabetes or polycystic ovary syndrome
What are the Warning Signs of Prediabetes?
Most people with prediabetes will feel fine. In fact, almost half won’t even know they have it! You don’t get the usual symptoms that are associated with diabetes, such as increased urination, thirst, and hunger. Laboratory diagnosis is required for prediabetes. Once you have a blood test, your fasting blood sugar levels can show up as elevated.
Blood sugars are tested at varying time intervals after the consumption of a large (75g) quantity of sugar. In technical terms, prediabetes can be classified by:
- Impaired fasting tolerance result of ≥ 6.1 mmol/L & 6.9 mmol/L
- Impaired glucose tolerance concentration of & 7.0 mmol/L
- 2-hour post-load plasma glucose concentration of ≥ 7.8 and 11.1 mmol/L
There are other tests to detect prediabetes, such as haemoglobin A1c (≥6.5%) – which measures the average blood sugar over weeks.
Can you go from Prediabetes to Normal?
Yes, it is possible to reverse prediabetes and achieve normal blood sugar levels. Adopting a healthy diet, engaging in regular physical activity, and maintaining a healthy weight can all help reverse, manage, or delay prediabetes. Quitting smoking and managing stress levels can also help with blood sugar control. Regular blood sugar monitoring and follow-up with healthcare professionals are essential for managing and potentially reversing prediabetes.
What Should You do if you have Prediabetes?
Having high blood sugar can be harmful. It’s associated with several metabolic abnormalities including resistance to the insulin hormone and elevated blood lipids. The potent combination of these can cause damage to your blood vessels, nerves, and almost every organ of your body.
It’s not all bad news though. If you’re motivated and willing, it’s easy to make positive changes to your health! Some simple lifestyle adjustments include:
- Having a healthy diet – consume lots of leafy green vegetables at every meal, fruit, and lean proteins. Reduce the number of refined carbohydrates (cookies, fries, and chips) as these can cause your blood sugar levels to rise. Reduce the portion sizes of your meals. Also, trade your sugary soda drinks with water.
- Perform regular exercise – aim for 30 to 60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week.
- Lose weight – even a modest amount of weight loss can have an impact on preventing prediabetes
- Cessation of smoking – if you’re a smoker, quit!
- Manage stress
The key is consistency. Utilise the resources and services provided by diabetes educators, your GP, and Allied Health Professionals to help you adopt these new habits.
The key to helping prevent or control prediabetes is making healthy lifestyle choices. This means eating a healthy diet high in fiber such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains, as well as consuming foods low in fat and calories; leading an active life by spending at least an hour a day exercising; maintaining a healthy body weight; and stopping smoking.
One of the questions most often asked is “How often should I check my blood sugar as a prediabetes patient?” Your healthcare provider may recommend testing for blood sugar levels once a year.
Another common question after a diagnosis is how long does it take to reverse prediabetes. The answer varies from individual to individual though some experts suggest that there is a window of three to six years to prevent or slow down the progression of prediabetes to Type 2 diabetes.
The Role of Exercise in Preventing Prediabetes
Exercise is a central component of the management and treatment of prediabetes. It not only helps with weight loss but by moving your muscles, you use up the sugar in your blood and increase your body’s sensitivity to insulin.
The primary goal of exercise for prediabetes is to return your blood sugar to normal and prevent the development of type 2 diabetes. Just a small amount of movement throughout each and every day can be effective in delaying the onset of type 2 diabetes. Research shows that you can reduce the risk of progression from prediabetes to type 2 diabetes by 58% through the combination of diet and exercise.
So, how do you get started with exercise for prediabetes prevention?
Well, the good thing is that you don’t really need to be an elite athlete to get the benefits from exercise. You can add to your daily physical activities by taking small, doable steps:
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator
- Go for a brisk walk during your lunch breaks
- Take your bike instead of your car when going to work
- Replace hours of binge-watching Netflix on your device with playing sports outdoors
Remember that even taking simple steps can make a big difference. Even adding tasks to your to-do household chores like an hour of gardening or house cleaning can help.
Exercise is one of the simplest ways to bring down your blood glucose levels. There are studies done that also suggest that doing interval training can help improve glucose control over a longer period. Interval training (also known as HIIT for High-Intensity Interval Training) involves bursts of high-intensity activity followed by varying recovery periods and can be utilised in activities such as running, cycling, or swimming. The other benefit is that it can be of a shorter duration and be more easily incorporated into your busy schedule.
If you want to make lasting changes in your level of physical activity but don’t know how or where to start, you can get in touch with our Exercise Physiologists (EPs) at Healthstin in Moss Vale. Our EPs have the expertise and knowledge to design and prescribe an individualized exercise program for the prevention, management, and treatment of prediabetes.
Call 1300 090 931 today! to find out how we can help you.
Prediabetes may be on the rise, but you can avoid getting this disease. Making lifestyle changes like being more physically active, avoiding smoking, and cleaning up your diet are all within your control. The time to take action is today. Remember, living a sweet life means not having to live with the difficulties and challenges of diabetes.