If you have been diagnosed with pre-diabetes, it is important to understand how to manage the condition. Approximately two million Australians are living with pre-diabetes and are therefore at risk of developing type 2 diabetes (Source: Diabetes Australia).

However, with sustainable lifestyle changes, approximately two thirds of Australians are able to successfully manage their pre-diabetes and not go on to develop type 2 diabetes (Source: Diabetes Australia). These lifestyle changes include;

  • Regular physical exercise;
  • Eating healthy diet with recommended portion sizes;
  • Keeping track of blood pressure as well as cholesterol levels;
  • Effective stress management and;
  • Alcohol in moderation and quitting smoking

What does it mean to have pre-diabetes?

When you eat food, your digestive system breaks down the carbohydrates in food into glucose (sugar). Insulin, a hormone produced by your pancreas, then helps move glucose from the bloodstream to your body’s cells, which use glucose for energy (Source: National Diabetes Service Scheme).

However, if your body has trouble moving the glucose from the bloodstream to your body’s cells, that glucose will build up in your bloodstream, leading to potential health complications. Pre-diabetes is when your blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes (Source: Diabetes Australia).

If you have been diagnosed with pre-diabetes, it means that you have at least one of two conditions:

  • Impaired glucose tolerance (IGT), in which the levels of glucose in your blood are higher than normal, but not high enough to be classified as diabetes.
  • Impaired fasting glucose (IFT), where your blood glucose levels are higher when you are fasting, but not high enough to be classified as diabetes.

How do I know if I have pre-diabetes?

Pre-diabetes does not have any symptoms. The only way to know for sure if you have this condition is to consult your doctor, who will organise tests and give you a proper diagnosis.

An oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) will be used to find out more about your body’s blood glucose levels and get you the results for your diagnosis. Here is the process for this test;

  • You will need to fast (not eat) for 8 hours before the test
  • A blood sample is taken and you are given a sweet drink that contains 75g of glucose
  • At 1 and 2 hours after you have had the drink, another blood test is performed to monitor changes in blood glucose levels 
  • If your blood glucose level is high, but not high enough to be classified as diabetes, your doctor will diagnose you with pre-diabetes.

What are the risk factors for pre-diabetes?

Risk factors for pre-diabetes include;

  • A family history of type 2 diabetes
  • Being overweight
  • Certain waist measurements
    • Greater than 94 cm in Caucasian men
    • Greater than 90cm for Asian men
    • Greater than 80cm for Women
  • Low levels of physical activity
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure and/or high cholesterol
  • Gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy)
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome
  • Some antipsychotic medications

Additionally, people from certain regions have a greater risk of developing pre-diabetes, including:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
  • Middle Eastern people
  • South Asian people
  • Pacific Islander people
  • North African people

 (Source: BetterHealth)

How can a healthy lifestyle help manage pre-diabetes?

Pre-diabetes is managed by combining several habits into a healthy lifestyle. These habits include;

Regular moderate physical exercise

Physical exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, as it;

  • Helps insulin work more efficiently to break down blood glucose
  • Lowers cholesterol levels
  • Helps manage your weight and reduce your waist measurement

In order to achieve regular physical activity, it is recommended that you aim for either;

  • 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity (i.e. brisk walking, swimming) on most, if not all, days of the week, or;
  • Three 20 minute sessions of vigorous intensity exercise per week (i.e. jogging, aerobics, strenuous gardening)

Additionally, it is recommended that you include resistance training twice a week (e.g. lifting weights, body weights exercises, etc.) in order to aid muscle growth as well as lose weight.   

(Source: Diabetes Australia)

Healthy eating habits

A healthy diet helps you manage pre-diabetes in various ways; such as lowering your cholesterol and blood pressure, giving your body energy to exercise and keeping your waist measurement at a healthy level.

Keeping a healthy diet means;

  • Reducing the intake of energy (measured in kilojoules)
  • Limiting the amount of saturated fats you eat, from foods such as;
    • Full fat dairy products;
    • Fatty meats;
    • Takeaway or processed foods;
    • Baked foods such as biscuits, cakes and pastries, etc.
  • Eating a wide range of foods that are high in fibre and low in the glycemic index (low GI), such as;
    • Whole grain breads and cereals;
    • Vegetables and legumes;
    • Fruit;
    • Healthy fats (i.e. nuts, avocados, fish, olive oil, etc.)

If you’re looking for more information on healthy eating, Diabetes Victoria has a wide range of booklets, fact sheets and pictorial guides on understanding and managing diabetes in multiple languages.  

Blood pressure and cholesterol management

High blood pressure and high cholesterol are both risk factors for pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes. Hence, they need to be managed through a healthy diet and physical exercise.

However, it is also important that you work with your doctor to monitor your blood pressure and cholesterol so that you can make sure your lifestyle is effectively reducing them.

Limiting alcohol and quitting smoking

Drinking too much alcohol results in weight gain and the amount of carbohydrates in many alcoholic drinks contributes to glucose build up in the blood. That’s why it is recommended for adults to limit drinking to no more than two standard drinks on any given day, as well as at least two alcohol-free days per week.

As smoking increases the risk of blood vessel disease and causes insulin resistance, it is strongly recommended that you quit smoking. You can find help with quitting by calling Quitlne Victoria at 131 848 or visiting their website

Can the Life! program help me manage my pre-diabetes?

If you have been diagnosed with pre-diabetes, the Life! program has a wealth of resources that will help you manage your pre-diabetes and achieve a healthy lifestyle.

The Life! program is a free healthy lifestyle program that helps you improve your eating habits, increase your physical activity and manage stress. You can choose from a group course or the telephone health coaching service. 

Our experienced health professionals will help you make small changes to your lifestyle so that you can achieve your health goals and reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Life! is funded by the Victorian government and coordinated by Diabetes Victoria. You can check your eligibility for the program here.

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Elleni Kaias, Accredited Practicing Dietitian | Primary Care Engagement Lead

Kristie Cocotis, Head of Prevention and Health Promotion

Sarah Dubé, Strategy and Engagement Lead

Ria Cheripuram, Digital Communications Officer

Tegan Kohlman, Communications and Social Marketing Officer