What is prediabetes?

Prediabetes means that your blood sugar level is higher than normal but not yet high enough to be classified as type 2 diabetes. If you don’t change anything, prediabetes is likely to become type 2 diabetes. If you have prediabetes, the long-term damage of diabetes—especially to your heart and circulatory system—may already be starting.

What causes prediabetes?

While the exact cause of prediabetes is unknown, excess fat—especially abdominal fat—and inactivity seem to be important factors in the development of prediabetes.

What is clear is that people who have prediabetes aren't quite processing sugar (glucose) properly anymore. This causes sugar to build up in the bloodstream instead of doing its normal job of fueling the cells that make up muscles and other tissues. Most of the glucose in your body comes from the foods you eat, specifically foods that contain carbohydrates. Any food that contains carbohydrates can affect your blood sugar levels, not just sweet foods.

The good news about prediabetes.

There's good news, however. Prediabetes can be an opportunity for you to improve your health. Progression from prediabetes to type 2 diabetes isn't inevitable. With healthy lifestyle changes—such as eating healthy foods, including physical activity in your daily routine, and maintaining a healthy weight—you may be able to bring your blood sugar level back to normal.

What should I do if I have prediabetes?

If you have prediabetes, healthy lifestyle choices can help you bring your blood sugar level back to normal or at least keep it from rising toward the levels seen in type 2 diabetes. However, some people will progress to type 2 diabetes even if they lose weight. Recommendations to help keep prediabetes from progressing to type 2 diabetes include these important steps:

EAT HEALTHY FOODS

Photo by karandaev/iStock / Getty Images

Choose whole foods low in animal fat and calories and high in fiber. Focus on fruits, vegetables, beans/legumes and whole grains. Strive for variety to help you achieve your goals without compromising taste or nutrition. Limit your intake of processed foods and added sugars.

GET MORE PHYSICAL EXERCISE

Photo by kieferpix/iStock / Getty Images

Aim for 30 to 60 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week. Try not to let more than two days go by without some exercise. Take a brisk daily walk. Ride your bike. Swim laps. If you can't fit in a long workout, break it up into smaller sessions spread throughout the day. The American Diabetes Association also recommends resistance training, such as weightlifting, twice a week. 

LOSE EXCESS POUNDS

Photo by Purestock/Purestock / Getty Images

If you're overweight, losing just 5 to 10 percent of your body weight—only 10 to 20 pounds if you weigh 200 pounds—can reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. To keep your weight in a healthy range, focus on permanent changes to your eating and exercise habits. Motivate yourself by remembering the benefits of losing weight, such as a healthier heart, more energy, and improved self-esteem.