The two most common forms of diabetes are type 1 and type 2. Currently, there is no way to delay or prevent type 1 diabetes. However, research has shown that type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed in people at risk for the disease. Preventing type 2 diabetes can mean a healthier and longer life without serious complications from the disease such as heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney failure, and amputations.

Preventing Type 2 Diabetes

Before people develop type 2 diabetes, they usually have pre-diabetes -- a condition in which blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but not yet high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes. The good news is that if you have pre-diabetes, there are ways to reduce your risk of getting type 2 diabetes. With modest weight loss and moderate physical activity, you can delay or prevent type 2 diabetes

Benefits of Weight Loss and Exercise

The Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) is a landmark study by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. DPP researchers found that adults at high risk for type 2 diabetes were able to cut their risk in half by losing a modest amount of weight and exercising three to five times a week. This means losing 5 to 7 percent of body weight (that's 10 pounds if you weigh 200 pounds) and getting 150 minutes of physical activity a week. The drug metformin reduced the risk of type 2 diabetes by 34 percent but was more effective in younger and heavier adults.

The benefits of weight loss and regular exercise have long-lasting value. In a DPP follow-up trial known as the Diabetes Prevention Program Outcome Study (DPPOS), people at risk of type 2 diabetes who kept off the weight they had lost and who continued to exercise regularly delayed the onset of type 2 diabetes by about 4 years.

The DPP study also showed that modest weight loss (achieved by following a low calorie, low-fat diet) and moderate physical activity were especially effective in preventing or delaying the development of diabetes in older people. In fact, people over the age of 60 were able to reduce their risk for developing type 2 diabetes by 71 percent.

How to Lower Your Risk

Making modest lifestyle changes can often prevent or delay type 2 diabetes in people who are at risk. Here are some tips.

  1. Reach and maintain a reasonable body weight. Your weight affects your health in many ways. Being overweight can keep your body from making and using insulin properly. It can also cause high blood pressure.
  2. Make healthy food choices. What you eat has a big impact on your weight and overall health. By developing healthy eating habits, you can help control your body weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol. Reducing portion size, increasing the amount of fiber you consume (by eating more fruits and vegetables) and limiting fatty and salty foods are key to a healthy diet.
  3. Get at least 30 minutes of exercise at least five days a week. Regular exercise reduces diabetes risk in several ways: it helps you lose weight, controls your cholesterol and blood pressure, and improves your body's use of insulin. Many people make walking part of their daily routine because it’s easy, fun and convenient. But you can choose any activity that gets you moving. It’s fine to break up your 30 minutes of exercise into smaller increments, such as three 10-minute periods. Check with your doctor before beginning any exercise program. For more information on exercise and older adults, go to http://nihseniorhealth.gov/exerciseforolderadults/toc.html.