By Sonya Collins
WebMD Feature Reviewed by Michael Dansinger, MD
It sounds too good to be true: reversing type 2 diabetes through exercise and healthy eating.
While certain lifestyle changes are key to managing diabetes, whether you can actually turn back time so that it’s like you never had diabetes is a different matter. That depends on how long you’ve had the condition, how severe it is, and your genes.
Make Changes That Count
“The term ‘reversal’ is used when people can go off medication but still must engage in a lifestyle program in order to stay off,” says Ann Albright, PhD, RD. She’s the director of diabetes translation at the CDC.
Shedding extra pounds and keeping them off can help you better control your blood sugar.
For some people, reaching a healthier weight will mean taking fewer medications, or in rarer cases, no longer needing those medications at all.
Losing 5% to 10% of your body weight and building up to 150 minutes of exercise a week may help you to slow or stop the progress of type 2 diabetes.
“If you sit [inactive] most of the day, 5 or 10 minutes is going to be great,” Albright says. “Walk to your mailbox. Do something that gets you moving, knowing that you’re looking to move towards 30 minutes most days of the week.”
In one study, people with type 2 diabetes exercised for 175 minutes a week, limited their calories to 1,200 to 1,800 per day, and got weekly counseling and education on these lifestyle changes.
Within a year, about 10% got off their diabetes medications or improved to the point where their blood sugar level was no longer in the diabetes range, and was instead classified as prediabetes.
Results were best for those who lost the most weight or who started the program with less severe or newly diagnosed diabetes. Fifteen percent to 20% of these people were able to stop taking their diabetes medications.
Don’t Blame Yourself
If you make changes to your diet and exercise routine, and your diabetes doesn’t improve, it’s not your fault, Albright says.
“The earlier in the course of the [condition] that you make these changes, the more likely you are to stack the deck in your favor that you won’t progress,” Albright says.
Your weight and lifestyle aren’t the only things that matter. Your genes also influence whether you get type 2 diabetes. Some thin people are living with type 2 diabetes, too.
Still, your weight and lifestyle are things you can change, and they are important parts of your overall health.
Know the Goal
What you’re aiming for: your best health, not someone else’s. Diet and exercise alone will control diabetes for some people. For others, a combination of medication and healthy habits will keep them at their best.
“If you have been able to manage on lifestyle intervention [or changes] alone, continue to do that. If you need to go on medication, do what’s necessary [for] your health,” Albright says. “You need to take advantage of the treatment that’s going to keep your blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol in check.”