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How can you prevent type 2 diabetes from getting worse?

Type 2 diabetes is a chronic condition that affects how your body metabolizes sugar (glucose). With type 2 diabetes, your body either resists the effects of insulin — a hormone that regulates the movement of sugar into your cells — or doesn’t produce enough insulin to maintain normal glucose levels. Over time, high blood sugar can damage nerves and blood vessels, leading to complications such as heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, eye problems and foot problems. But preventing these serious complications from type 2 diabetes starts with controlling your blood sugar levels. The steps you take to manage your diabetes can help keep your blood sugar close to normal — and that can decrease the risk of complications down the road.

What causes type 2 diabetes to get worse?

There are several factors that can cause type 2 diabetes to get worse over time:

Weight gain

Gaining excess weight is a risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes. It can also make the condition harder to manage if you already have it. Extra weight may result in increased insulin resistance, meaning your cells don’t respond properly to insulin and can’t absorb glucose as well. Over time, this can worsen blood sugar control.

Physical inactivity

Regular physical activity helps your body use insulin more efficiently. When you’re inactive, it’s harder to keep your blood sugar levels in check. Lack of exercise is a risk factor for diabetes complications like heart and blood vessel disease.

Unhealthy diet

Eating too many refined carbohydrates and sugary foods prompts your body to secrete more insulin to keep up. Over the long run, your cells can become resistant to the effects of insulin. An unhealthy diet high in calories, fat and processed foods can worsen blood sugar management.

Medication nonadherence

Taking diabetes medications as prescribed is crucial for controlling blood sugar. Forgetting to take medicines, not taking the proper dose or stopping treatment altogether allows blood sugar levels to go unchecked. Over time, this makes diabetes worse and raises your risk of complications.


Smoking constricts blood vessels and increases inflammation. Both effects can worsen insulin resistance and make type 2 diabetes harder to control. Smoking also significantly raises your risk of cardiovascular problems.

Genetic factors

Research shows that genes can play a role in the development and progression of type 2 diabetes. While genetics aren’t something you can control, being aware of increased risk can help you make lifestyle changes to lessen the impact of inherited traits.

Diet changes to help prevent worsening of type 2 diabetes

Making wise dietary choices is one of the most powerful ways to prevent type 2 diabetes complications. Here are some nutrition tips:

Choose healthy carbohydrates

Focus on fiber-rich, minimally processed carbs like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and lentils. Avoid refined grains like white bread, pasta and rice that can spike blood sugar quickly. Limit sugary foods and beverages that provide empty calories and no nutrients.

Include protein and healthy fats

Protein foods like fish, lean meat, eggs, nuts and seeds help slow digestion and stabilize blood sugar. Healthy fats like olive oil and avocados support satiety and help your body absorb vitamins.

Watch portion sizes

Overeating forces your body to produce more insulin, which can worsen insulin resistance over time. Be mindful of serving sizes and stop eating when you feel full.

Stay hydrated

Drink water instead of sweetened beverages. Proper hydration prevents dangerous blood sugar fluctuations. Aim for at least eight 8-ounce glasses of fluids daily.

Moderate alcohol

Alcohol interferes with the liver’s ability to regulate blood sugar. Men should limit themselves to two drinks or less per day, while women should have one drink or less. Always drink alcohol with food to minimize blood sugar swings.

Choose a balanced plate

Fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables, one quarter with lean protein and one quarter with a healthy carbohydrate like beans, fruit, whole grains or starchy vegetables. This plate model helps control portions while optimizing nutrition.

Exercise strategies to better manage type 2 diabetes

Physical activity is vitally important for preventing worsening of type 2 diabetes. Exercise helps insulin work better and keeps blood sugar levels steady. Here are some tips:

Get moving each day

Aim for at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity most days of the week. Brisk walking, cycling, swimming and dancing are excellent choices. Start slow if you haven’t exercised in a while and gradually increase duration and intensity.

Build activity into your routine

Take the stairs, park farther from entrances, do housework at a fast pace, pace when on the phone, and get up to change the TV channel instead of using the remote. Little bursts of activity throughout the day really add up.

Try resistance training

Lifting weights, using resistance bands and doing body weight exercises like squats, lunges and pushups can improve insulin sensitivity. For best results, do strength sessions 2-3 times per week allowing rest days in between.

Sneak in extra steps

Aim for 7,000-10,000 steps per day. Carry a pedometer or fitness tracker to monitor your daily activity. Take short walks on your lunch break and pace while talking on the phone.

Find an exercise buddy

Working out with a friend or taking a group fitness class helps you stay motivated and consistent. Having someone depend on you will make you less likely to skip workouts.

Lifestyle changes that can improve type 2 diabetes

In addition to diet and exercise, implementing these lifestyle tweaks can help you manage type 2 diabetes better:

Quit smoking

Smoking worsens insulin resistance and diabetic complications. Quitting improves blood sugar control almost immediately. Talk to your doctor about support resources to help you stop smoking for good.

Limit alcohol

Heavy alcohol use negatively affects blood sugar. Have no more than one drink per day if you’re a woman and two if you’re a man. Always drink alcohol with food, not on an empty stomach.

Manage stress

Chronic stress triggers the release of hormones like cortisol that can raise blood sugar. Try relaxing activities like meditation, yoga, deep breathing and listening to music. Get emotional support from loved ones.

Get enough sleep

Not getting the recommended 7-8 hours per night can impair insulin regulation. Go to bed and wake up on a consistent schedule and limit screen time before bed. Make your bedroom comfortable and minimize distractions.

Monitor blood sugar

Check your blood sugar levels regularly as advised by your doctor so you can detect patterns and make adjustments to your diet, activity levels and medication to achieve better control.

See your doctor regularly

Attend appointments with your health care team often to review blood sugar numbers, get important screenings and manage other medical conditions that can impact diabetes. Ongoing care is key.

Medication tips for preventing diabetes progression

When lifestyle changes aren’t enough to control blood sugar well, medication can help. Here are some medication-related tips:

Take medication as prescribed

Don’t skip or stop diabetes medication without your doctor’s guidance. Taking your medicines properly helps keep blood sugar stable. Never alter dosages or timing on your own.

Don’t hesitate to start insulin

If your body isn’t producing enough insulin, taking insulin can normalize blood sugar levels and prevent progression of diabetes. Insulin enables cells to utilize glucose properly.

Ask about newer medications

Newer drugs for type 2 diabetes may be added to your regimen if your current medications aren’t keeping your A1C and blood sugar numbers optimal. There are many options available.

Report side effects

Notify your doctor if you experience side effects from any diabetes medications. An adjustment in dosage, timing or even switching to a different medication may help resolve the problem.

Use reminders

To avoid forgetting doses, set phone alarms, use pill organizers and place sticky notes in visible spots. Apps can provide medication schedules and alerts to boost adherence.

Preventing and monitoring diabetes complications

Managing type 2 diabetes well reduces the likelihood of serious complications, but it’s still important to get screened for the following problems:

Heart disease

Diabetes dramatically increases the risk of cardiovascular issues like heart attack and stroke. Your doctor should check your blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides and may recommend medications if needed.

Kidney disease

High blood sugar can damage the small blood vessels in the kidneys. Have your urine and blood tested annually to check for signs of kidney problems. Manage blood pressure meticulously.

Nerve damage (neuropathy)

Excess sugar can injure the walls of the tiny blood vessels that nourish the nerves. Report symptoms like numbness, tingling and pain in the hands, feet or legs to your doctor right away.

Eye disease

Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in people aged 20-74. Get a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year to check for diabetic retinopathy.

Foot problems

Nerve damage in the feet increases risk of unnoticed wounds progressing to ulcers and gangrene. Check your feet daily, wear proper footwear and see your podiatrist regularly.


While living with type 2 diabetes poses many challenges, you have the power to prevent the condition from getting worse. Monitoring your blood sugar, taking medications as prescribed, adopting healthy lifestyle habits and getting regular medical care can help manage diabetes and avoid devastating complications. Committing to daily self-care will put you on the path to your best health.