Exercise, diet and lifestyle changes prevent onset of diabetes in those at high risk: UAlberta medical research

Raquel Maurier - 26 November 2013

People at high risk of developing diabetes can prevent its onset if they exercise, improve their diet and make one other lifestyle change such as seeking counseling or quitting smoking, demonstrates recently published findings from medical researchers at the University of Alberta

Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry researcher Christina Korownyk and her team, which included the Alberta Research Centre for Health Evidence, recently published their findings in the peer reviewed journal, Annals of Internal Medicine. Their findings confirm similar findings by other groups.

"This is reassurance for those who are at risk of developing diabetes that there is good evidence to support comprehensive lifestyle interventions in preventing diabetes," she said. "The benefits begin early on, within the first year, and lasted for years after the interventions ended."

Korownyk reviewed data from nine clinical trials with patients who were at risk for diabetes, and 11 trials for patients who had diabetes. The trials took place anywhere from 1980 to 2013. The lifestyle changes patients made ranged in duration from six to 72 months, with some patients being followed for as long as three to 20 years after the changes were made. The third lifestyle change made, other than improved diet and more exercise, included: counseling, goal setting, cooking lessons, stress management, medication, or glucose and blood pressure monitoring. In this review, those considered at risk of developing diabetes included people with metabolic syndromes, impaired glucose tolerance, insulin resistance, and impaired fasting glucose.

Korownyk's research also revealed lifestyle interventions didn't improve mortality rates for diabetics, but she cautioned that more research needs to be done in this area. Most of the trials they looked at didn't examine mortality rates because patients have to be followed for much longer durations of time.

"I don't think these findings should be interpreted as diabetics don't need to exercise or eat healthy," said the researcher who works in the Department of Family Medicine.

"The majority of the studies we looked at focused on markers including glucose control, blood pressure and weight. Changes in these markers can be seen much earlier and thus are easier to measure, whereas trials that look at clinical outcomes like cardiovascular problems and mortality rates require much longer intervention or follow-up. This review highlights the need for further research that evaluates whether mortality rates decline once type 2 diabetics make lifestyle changes."

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services funded the research.