Researchers have found that lifestyle modifications such as weight control, exercise, and a healthful diet can prevent or postpone the onset of type 2 diabetes . But it is unclear whether the benefits of these modifications last for the long term even after they have stopped.

A new study in the November 11, 2006 issue of The Lancet followed a group of people at risk for developing type 2 diabetes for three years after they completed a lifestyle modification program. Even after the program ended, the participants continued to enjoy a significant reduction in their risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

About the Study

For this study, researchers in Finland recruited 522 overweight, middle-aged men and women who had impaired glucose tolerance (ie, problems converting glucose to energy), placing them at-risk for developing type 2 diabetes. The participants were randomly assigned to engage in a lifestyle modification program or not (the control group). The program involved meeting regularly with a nutritionist who counseled the participants to lose weight, reduce total and saturated fat intake, increase fiber intake, and exercise regularly. The lifestyle modification program lasted for about four years, after which the researchers followed the participants for another three years.

After four years, participants in the lifestyle modification program were 58% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes, compared with participants in the control group. Three years after the discontinuation of the lifestyle modification program, those in the intervention group still had a 43% reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

How Does This Affect You?

These findings suggest that the benefits of lifestyle modification counseling in reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes persists for at least three years after the counseling has stopped. It is not clear whether the extended benefit occurred because of the effects of the program itself or because the participants continued to maintain their lifestyle changes.

Regardless, it is encouraging that a lifestyle intervention program can have lasting, beneficial effects on health. To reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, take steps to achieve or maintain a healthy weight, exercise regularly, and eat a healthful diet. The benefits may last for years to come.