Losing weight, cutting down on saturated fats, eating more fiber and exercising 30 minutes a day can make a difference when it comes to diabetes.
Finnish researchers have shown that lifestyle changes not only reduce the odds of high-risk people developing type 2 diabetes but can also postpone the onset of the illness.
“From a public health point of view there is an important message: an intensive lifestyle intervention lasting for a limited time can yield long-term benefits in reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes,” said Jaakko Tuomilehto of the National Public Health Institute in Helsinki.
About 194 million people worldwide suffer from diabetes and public health experts predict the number could reach more than 300 million by 2025. Most cases are type 2 diabetes, which is caused by an inability to regulate glucose (sugar) in the body properly, and linked to being overweight and obese.
Diabetes also raises risk of heart disease, stroke, blindness and kidney damage, so preventing or delaying the illness can have huge health benefits.
“Lifestyle intervention works very well,” Tuomilehto told Reuters.
People with impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) have a higher chance of suffering from diabetes. About 50 percent will develop diabetes during the next 10 years if nothing is done, according the researchers who reported their findings in The Lancet medical journal.
Tuomilehto and his colleagues compared the effects of lifestyle changes on more than 500 men and women in Finland with IGT. Half were given intensive diet and exercise counseling while the other half acted as a control group.
During a seven-year follow up of the patients, the scientists found a significant difference between the two groups. There was about a 15-20 percent reduction in diabetes risk in the intervention group.
“Although a lifestyle intervention alone, even if successful, does not necessarily prevent type 2 diabetes in all individuals, it will still postpone the onset of the disease,” Tuomilehto added.
Diabetes U.K. said the study confirms the importance of lifestyle changes in reversing the type 2 diabetes epidemic.
“It clearly shows the prolonged benefits that physical activity and an improved diet can bring, especially to those most at risk,” said the charity’s Jemma Edwards.