Adults may be able to reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes as they age simply by setting diet and exercise goals and sticking to those goals, study findings hint.

Older men and women who self-monitored their behavior and set healthier diet and physical activity goals not only lost weight and body mass over a year, but maintained their losses after 3 years, researchers report in the journal Diabetes Care.

This low-cost approach could have a public health impact on diabetes prevention, "if the program reaches a major proportion of those at risk," Dr. Pilvikki Absetz, from the National Institute for Health and Welfare in Helsinki, Finland, noted in an email correspondence with Reuters Health.

Absetz and colleagues evaluated weight, body mass, waist size, and blood sugar among 352 participants in the so-called GOAL Lifestyle Implementation Trial.

At study entry, the men and women were 50 to 65 years old, and all were at high risk for developing type 2 diabetes. To try to reduce this risk, the group participated in 6 lifestyle goal-setting sessions over 8 months, in which a dietitian and physical activity specialist helped them set and plan out individual diet and exercise goals.

The 266 men and women evaluated after 3 years lost 1.0 kilograms (2.2 pounds) on average — a greater average weight loss (0.8 kilograms or about 1.76 pounds) than that seen at the 1-year follow up. These participants had also maintained declines in body mass achieved after 1 year.

In addition, at the start of the study, 65 participants showed impaired tolerance to blood sugar, a precursor to full blown type 2 diabetes. According to the researchers, 43 percent had returned to normal blood sugar tolerance levels at year 3, while 12 percent developed diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes develops when the body can no longer properly use the blood-sugar regulating hormone insulin, causing blood sugar levels to soar. The disorder is closely linked to obesity, but studies in adults have shown that regular exercise can prevent or delay its onset.