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5 Lifestyle Changes to Reverse Prediabetes

by Sarah Cimperman, ND

A healthy lifestyle is just as important as a healthy diet when it comes to reversing prediabetes and staying well. In fact, studies show that lifestyle interventions are the most effective treatment for reversing prediabetes, lowering hemoglobin A1C, decreasing high blood pressure, improving physical fitness, and promoting weight loss. The following five lifestyle changes will help you accomplish these goals and more. 

#1  Avoid Cigarette Smoke
Studies show that smoking cigarettes raises fasting blood sugar levels and increases the risk of developing diabetes (as well as other illnesses like cardio-vascular disease and cancer). Even if you don’t smoke, being around people who do can have a similar effect. Individuals exposed to secondhand smoke have higher levels of fasting blood sugar and hemoglobin A1C, more insulin resistance, and a higher incidence of type 2 diabetes compared to those who aren’t. 

When it comes to quitting, close to 90 percent of successful long-term quitters stop smoking abruptly, and this cold turkey method has been shown to be twice as effective as nicotine replacement therapy and medications taken to reduce cravings. These drugs carry side effects like constipation and insomnia, and nicotine replacement isn’t a good choice for people with prediabetes because long-term use can increase levels of insulin and promote insulin resistance.

#2  Exercise Regularly
Exercise helps reverse prediabetes by reducing inflammation, lowering blood sugar, making cells more sensitive to insulin, and boosting levels of serotonin, which helps reduce food cravings. Studies show that regular exercise improves fitness in people with high blood sugar by as much as 40 percent in as little as three to five months, and that the combination of aerobic and strengthening exercises is more powerful than either type of exercise alone. In one trial, researchers followed more than 32,000 men for 18 years and found that those who performed at least 150 minutes of aerobic and strengthening exercises each week reduced their risk of type 2 diabetes by almost 60 percent. 

The best forms of exercise are the ones you’ll do regularly, so find activities you enjoy. Talk to your doctor about your exercise goals, especially if you aren’t already physically active, and consider meeting at least once with a personal trainer who can recommend a routine to help you meet those goals. Personal trainers can also familiarize you with exercise equipment and make sure that you’re doing the exercises correctly.

#3  Relax
When we’re continuously exposed to stress, whether physical or mental, real or imagined, levels of stress hormones like cortisol are continuously elevated. This triggers inflammation, prompts the body to accumulate fat, and increases the risk of developing diabetes. High cortisol levels also deplete serotonin, causing us to crave sweet and starchy foods. 

One of the best ways to keep cortisol levels low is to find activities that help us relax. Exercise is a good one, but other options are also effective, like yoga, meditation, guided imagery, breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, self hypnosis, qigong, massage, or simply spending time in nature. Like any skill, relaxation requires practice, focus, and concentration. It doesn’t come naturally for everyone but the more you do it, the easier it will be. Pick activities that feel right to you and practice them daily or whenever the need arises.

#4  Get Plenty of Sleep
Short sleep cycles raise blood sugar levels, cause cells to lose sensitivity to insulin, and increase the risk for diabetes. Lack of sleep also causes levels of leptin, a hormone that reduces appetite, to go down, and levels of ghrelin, a hormone that makes you hungry, to go up. In one study, being deprived of just two hours of sleep caused healthy men to crave sugar and eat more of it. Another study showed that sleeping seven hours or less overnight prompts our bodies to store fat while sleeping nine hours or more suppresses this effect. 

If you struggle with insomnia, talk to your doctor about sleep hygiene strategies like avoiding electronics before bed, sleeping in complete darkness, and eliminating alcohol, caffeine, and sugar from your diet. Also utilize relaxation techniques like breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, and self hypnosis.

#5  Consider Detox
Toxic compounds permeate our environment and they permeate our bodies. Almost 500 different chemicals have been found in human blood and fat tissue and the older we get, the more toxins we contain. Studies show that many of these chemicals can cause changes in the body that promote the development of diabetes. These “diabetogens” include pesticides, chemicals in nonstick cookware and plastic food and beverage containers, chemicals found in our drinking water, and industrial pollutants absorbed by some of the plants and animals in our diet. Since 1999 the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has measured chemicals in the blood and urine of people taking part in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The most recent report found diabetogens in 100 percent of the 2,500 people studied (CDC 2013). 

We’ll never be able to avoid all of the toxins in our environment, but we can take steps to minimize our exposure and remove them from our bodies through detoxification. If you’re interested in detox, ask your naturopathic doctor to individualize a protocol that will meet your needs and help you reach your goals.
References are available upon request. 

Dr. Sarah Cimperman, ND is a naturopathic doctor in private practice in New York City and author of The Prediabetes Detox: A Whole-Body Program to Balance Your Blood Sugar, Increase Energy, and Reduce Sugar Cravings (www.prediabetesdetox.com). Follow Dr. Cimperman on Facebook, Twitter and her blogs, A Different Kind of Doctor and The Naturopathic Gourmet. Find her at www.drsarahcimperman.com  .

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