Did you know that you can prevent or slow the progression of type 2 diabetes with healthy lifestyle habits? Unfortunately, some risk factors for type 2 diabetes cannot be changed, including age, ethnicity, or genetics. But we all have the power to change our food choices, activity level, stress level, and more.

There are three main types of diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is the most common and is a condition that occurs slowly. With this type of diabetes your body’s cells have trouble using insulin properly over time. This is known as insulin resistance.

Learn more about diabetes, types, symptoms, and risk factors

Below are some healthy habits that can help you prevent or slow type 2 diabetes.

Aim for a healthy weight 

Maintaining a healthy weight is an important step to preventing diabetes. If you are overweight, you can cut in half your chances of developing type 2 diabetes by doing two things: losing 5-7% of your current weight and increasing your physical activity.

Aim to lose weight slowly and safely. It’s not about the speed of the weight loss, but the ability to lose and maintain the weight loss.

Check out these three tips for healthy weight loss from our dietitian

Increase your physical activity 

Adding more activity helps prevent or manage diabetes in a couple of ways. First, it helps you keep a healthy weight. As you lose weight, being active will help you keep it off.

Secondly, being physically active helps your cells better use the sugar in your blood. Your body uses energy, or blood sugar, to fuel itself during exercise. When you’re done exercising, your cells are more sensitive to the insulin. Therefore, you use the sugar in the blood more efficiently.

The recommended activity goal is 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity activity, or 30 minutes a day for 5 days a week. Add in exercise slowly and make it fun. A brisk walk is a great way to start an exercise program. Consider dancing, water aerobics, or other fun ways to get your body moving. 

Eat healthy and control your portions

When looking to eat healthy, keep it simple. Aim to eat foods that provide the most nutrition per calorie. These are called nutrient-dense foods. These types of foods are fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, plant proteins, and low or no-fat dairy products. Many of these items provide your body with essential nutrients it needs to stay healthy.

Monitor your portion sizes to help maintain a healthy weight. Consider using the diabetes plate method:

  • non-starchy vegetables on half your plate
  • starch (preferably a whole grain or starchy vegetable) on one quarter of your plate
  • lean protein such as chicken breast or fish on one quarter of your plate

It’s important to eat less saturated fat, as well. Saturated fats are typically from animal sources, such as butters, fat from meat, cream, or coconut oil. Saturated fats worsen insulin resistance

Check out these meal planning tips to eat healthier and stay on budget

See the top 15 foods you should be eating

Avoid added sugars and sugary beverages 

Often, sugars are added to a product to increase sweetness. These can be added by you or the food manufacturer. An example of this is adding sugar to your coffee, tea, or breakfast cereal. Look to decrease the total amount of sugar you add to your foods.

You should also read food labels to determine how much sugar has been added to the product. Choose foods with less added sugar.

Instead of sugary drinks, try to drink water or no-sugar-added beverages. This can help you maintain a healthy weight and decrease the amount of sugar you put into your body.

Read why it’s important for you to drink water and stay hydrated

Is fruit juice bad for you and your family? Find out from our pediatricians

Get sleep and reduce your stress

There are many links between high stress levels, poor sleep quality, and type 2 diabetes. When you are stressed, your body releases many stress hormones. Some of these hormones increase sugar production in the body, causing high blood sugars.

Lack of sleep can increase insulin resistance, causing an increase in blood sugars. To help decrease stress, try deep breathing, meditation, or doing a physical activity, such as taking a walk.

To improve your sleep quality, turn off all electronic devices one hour before bedtime. You can also take a warm shower or bath and create a relaxing bedroom for sleep. 

Check out these 10 tips to manage stress

Learn more about our stress management class for UC Davis Health patients

Our diabetes classes can help you

There are many more ways to prevent or manage your diabetes. For more information about diabetes, weight management, or stress reduction check out our free group classes. Classes are offered virtually or in-person, Monday through Saturday. To enroll, you can login to MyUCDavisHealth or call 916-734-0718.

Learn about UC Davis Health's diabetes care and resources

Learn more about our diabetes classes and support groups

Check out our Health Education class schedules and learn more about registering

Watch stories of people who cut their risk for type 2 diabetes

This blog was written by Melinda Gong, a registered dietitian at UC Davis Health. She specializes in diabetes self-management education, where she helps people with diabetes manage their conditions to live a long healthy life.