Almost half of all people aged 65 and older have prediabetes, or high blood sugar. Thankfully, lifestyle can help reverse it.
If you’ve just been diagnosed with prediabetes, you may wonder what prediabetes is exactly. It’s a health condition where your blood sugar levels are elevated. You don’t have type two diabetes yet, but if you don’t make some lifestyle changes, you’re at high risk of developing it.
Prediabetes is actually very common. About 96 million American adults—more than one in three—have prediabetes. But more than 80 percent don’t realize they do. The numbers are higher as you age: Almost half of all people aged 65 and older have prediabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
This might sound scary, but there’s good news: You may be able to stop prediabetes in its tracks. In an interview with U.S. News and World Report, Dr. Lyudmila Shvets-Gabriel, an endocrinologist with White Plains Hospital Physician Associates in Armonk, New York, stressed that “the good news is if we identify people who have prediabetes, there is a lot that can be done to help that person to prevent them from getting to diabetes."
Signs of Prediabetes
Most people don’t know they have prediabetes. It doesn’t usually show up with symptoms. There are a few signs, however.
- Dark skin and/or small skin growths in your armpits or the back or sides of your neck
- Feeling hungrier than usual
- Losing or gaining weight
- Feeling tired
- Increased sweating
- Blurred vision
- Bruises or cuts that take a while to heal
- Bleeding gums
Since most people don’t have symptoms, it’s very important to get screened for the disease. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends that everyone over the age of 35 get checked for type two diabetes.. If your test is normal, you won’t have to have another one for three years. You may, however, need to get screened more frequently if you have the following risk factors:
- You’re overweight or obese.
- You have a family history of type two diabetes.
- You had diabetes years ago, when you were pregnant.
- You have high blood pressure and/or abnormal cholesterol results.
How is Prediabetes Diagnosed?
Prediabetes can be diagnosed with a simple blood test done at your doctor’s office. There are three main tests:
Many doctors prefer this test, since it measures your average blood sugar level over the past two to three months. You also don’t have to fast, or eat or drink anything. An A1C between 5.7 and 6.4% indicates prediabetes.
Fasting blood sugar test
This test measures your blood sugar after a night of not eating. 100 to 125 mg/dL means you have prediabetes.
Glucose tolerance test
You’ll fast overnight, then get your blood drawn to find out your fasting blood sugar level. You’ll then drink a sugary liquid, and get your blood sugar level checked three times: an hour, two hours, and three hours later. At two hours, a blood sugar level of 140 to 199 mg/dL indicates prediabetes.
If one of these tests shows that you have prediabetes, your doctor will most likely want to run a second test a few weeks later to confirm the diagnosis.
Can you reverse prediabetes?
If you are diagnosed with prediabetes, take heart. Prediabetes can often be reversed with some lifestyle modifications. Here’s what you can do.
People with prediabetes who lose around 7 percent of their body weight (that’s about 12½ pounds for an 180 pound person) have a 58 percent lower risk to develop full-blown type two diabetes.
Eat a healthy diet
There’s no one style of eating that’s best to reverse prediabetes. It’s important to limit sugary foods like baked goods, candy, fruit juice, and soft drinks. Some research suggests that a heart healthy diet like the Mediterranean diet—which is rich in fruits, veggies, whole grains, fish, lean meats, and olive oil—can help improve blood sugar in people with prediabetes.
If you get your body moving, you’ll get your blood sugar numbers to move down, too. The ADA recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity each week, like brisk walking. You can break it up into five 30-minute sessions, or spread it out in 10-minute increments throughout your day. As long as you do it, you’ll gain benefits! Try to do both aerobic exercise (think walking or swimming) as well as strength training.
Get enough Zzz’s
If you want to prevent diabetes, it’s a good idea to get at least seven hours of sleep a night. Lack of sleep can make you hungry. This means you’re more likely to reach for junk foods that are high in saturated fat and sugar. Make sure you get up and go to bed at around the same time every day, even on weekends.
Where to get help
It may seem overwhelming to make all of these changes on your own. It’s a good idea to get help. The CDC offers assistance in making lifestyle changes through its National Diabetes Prevention Program. The program includes coaches, stress management programs, and peer support.
Medicare also offers the Medicare Diabetes Prevention Program. You’re eligible if you have Medicare Part B or a Medicare Advantage Plan and have a diagnosis of prediabetes. The program involves six months of weekly group sessions where you’ll learn strategies to make realistic behavior changes around diet and exercise. After six months, you’ll get six monthly follow-up sessions.
Some Medicare Advantage plans also cover gym memberships, or even nutritional counseling.
Want to know if your plan offers diabetes prevention benefits? Check out all the plans in your area and the benefits available to you with our easy-to-use plan finding tool!
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