active ageing

How to stop prediabetes becoming diabetes

In Australia, one person is diagnosed with diabetes every 5 minutes. That’s 280 per day. Many of these people had been living with prediabetes for years – they 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 that 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 food is digested and then travels out to fuel all our cells. With prediabetes, the sugars accumulate in our blood instead.

Prediabetes is actually more common than you think – an estimated 200 million people worldwide are currently affected by prediabetes. In Australia, the prevalence of prediabetes is also on the rise.

What causes it?

Prediabetes results from the combination of genetic and environmental factors that lead to abnormal blood sugar levels. Although we can not alter our family history, we can make dramatic changes to our 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
  • Smoking
  • History of gestational diabetes or polycystic ovary syndrome


How do you know if you have 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 but < 6.9 mmol/L; or
  • Impaired glucose tolerance concentration of < 7.0 mmol/L; and
  • 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.

Learn more about diabetes and exercise. 

walking as exercise

Can you reverse it?

The short answer, yes! Prediabetes is a warning sign. Just because you’re diagnosed with prediabetes doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to get type 2 diabetes. It’s estimated that 3-10% of those with prediabetes will become diabetic every year. By managing your body weight, eating a well-balanced diet, increasing your exercise levels and having a regular sleeping pattern, there is a reasonable chance that you can reverse 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 our bodies.

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
Perform regular exercise – aim for 30 to 60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week
Cessation of smoking – if you’re a smoker, quit!

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 role of exercise for 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?

Well, the best thing is you really don’t need to be an elite athlete to get the benefits. Try taking the stairs instead of the elevator or going for a brisk walk on your lunch breaks. Simple changes can make a big difference. But, if you are looking for a professional to help you out, contact your local Exercise Physiologist. They have the expertise and knowledge to formulate an individualised exercise program for the prevention, management and treatment of prediabetes.

To find an Accredited Exercise Physiologist near you, click here. 

Rachelle Sultana Exercise Physiologist

Rachelle is an Accredited Exercise Physiologist at North West Exercise Physiology. She is currently completing her PhD at the University of Sydney where she has a research focus on novel exercise therapies for the modulation of body composition in obesity and diabetes.