1 November 2020

Diabetes Prevention: 5 Simple Steps to Reduce Your Risk of Type 2 Diabetes


What do mee rebus, kuih apam balik, and pengat pisang have in common? Apart from being some of Malaysia’s most iconic foods, they also have the highest sugar content per standard portion, according to a study of 70 local delicacies. Malaysia may be a food haven, but that’s not why they are dubbed the Sweetest Nation in Asia.
In Malaysia, approximately 3.9 million people, or 1 in every 5 adults, live with diabetes – a number expected to reach 7 million adults aged 18 and older by 2025. Against this grim backdrop, a lack of awareness prevails. 1 in 3 individuals with diabetes do not know what the abnormal blood sugar level readings are, and 50% of the diabetic population are undiagnosed.
Change begins with education, and the following ways to lower your risks of type 2 diabetes are a good place to start. Granted, some risk factors are beyond our control, but others can be mitigated with simple lifestyle adjustments.
Type 2 Diabetes Risk Factors
Uncontrollable Factors Controllable Factors
- Genetic predisposition - having a direct family member (parent of sibling) diagnosed with diabetes
- Age – risks of getting diabetes increases with age. If you are 40 years old or older, you have a higher risk compared to someone who is 10 years younger
- Weight – having a BMI of 23.0kg/m2 or higher
- Leading a sedentary (inactive) lifestyle
- Smoking
- Excessive alcohol consumption
1. Maintain a healthy body weight
Whereas “ideal” body weight may differ across individuals, “healthy” body weight is ubiquitously measured by one’s Body Mass Index (BMI). According to Sun Life’s medical director Dr Raymond Tso, maintaining healthy body weight is one of the two most important ways of keeping T2DM at bay because people who are overweight are seven times more at risk.
How to calculate BMI
BMI = Weight (kg) / Height2 (in metres)
BMI (kg/m2) Category (Asian cut-off) Type 2 Diabetes Risks
>= 30.0 Obese High Risk
23.0 – 29.9 Overweight Medium Risk
18.5 – 22.9 Normal Low Risk (Healthy range)
< 18.5 Underweight Risk of nutritional deficiency diseases and osteoporosis
  • If your BMI is between 23.0 and 29.9, you are at moderate risk for Type 2 diabetes and should consider losing some body weight.
  • If your BMI is >= 30.0, you are at high risk and should see a doctor and start planning to lose body weight as soon as possible.
  • If your BMI is between 18.8 – 22.9, you are at low risk. Continue to monitor your body weight.
  • If your BMI is below 18.5, you may not be in the high-risk group for Type 2 diabetes. However, you are at risk of developing nutritional deficiencies such as anaemia and osteoporosis (weak bones).
  • Aim for a healthy body weight with a BMI between 18.5 – 22.9.
If you’ve done the math and the result isn’t stellar, hold your horses before embarking on fad diets and the like. Weight loss should be gradual and sustainable, and a daily calorie deficit – where you consume less energy than is used – of about 500kcal is a good “day one” goal. With a proper diet and exercise regime in place, you could be well on your way to shedding between 0.5 to 1 kg a week. Start small or, better yet, have a doctor or dietician guide you along.

2. Eat a balanced diet
A diet that prevents diabetes is no different than the next healthy eating plan. Fresh fruit and vegetables provide antioxidants, strengthen immunity, and reduce risks of chronic diseases – diabetes included.

The following choices also add up:

a) Choose complex over processed carbohydrates, such as brown rice or wholemeal bread. They slow down the release of glucose into your bloodstream.

b) Swap red meat out for poultry, fish, or plant-based protein sources like kidney beans, chickpeas, tofu, lentils, edamame, and quinoa.

c) Switch to healthy fats and oils made from nuts, olives, avocados, canola, or fish. Even then, consume in moderation.

d) Picking water, coffee, and tea over sugar drinks and alcohol – however difficult that may seem in social situations.

When in doubt, take a cue from the Malaysian Health Plate – a dietary guideline by Malaysia’s Ministry of Health – and fill a quarter of your dish with carbohydrates, another with protein, and the remaining half with fruits and vegetables.

3. Get moving with regular exercise
Regular exercise not only reduces the risk of Type 2 Diabetes by improving your body’s sensitivity to insulin; it also burns excess calories and builds lean body mass. But not all workouts are created equal. In diabetes prevention, exercise should be cardiovascular in nature.

For adults, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activities, like brisk walking, hiking, cycling, or swimming; or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity workout that makes you pant and sweat every week. Importantly, pick something you enjoy so exercise becomes less of a chore. For some, that looks like breaking a sweat with friends over tennis, badminton, basketball, or soccer.

A word of caution if you haven’t exercised in a long time: Get clearance from your doctor if need be, take it easy at the start, and increase your pace and intensity over time.

4. Get enough sleep
Listen up, night owls. Sleeping less than 5 hours per night and having one’s circadian rhythm disrupted by night shifts are risk factors for Type 2 diabetes, according to the Asian Diabetes Prevention Initiative, a joint research program by the University of Singapore and the Harvard School of Public Health. Sleep apnea, a condition where breathing repeatedly stops and starts in slumber, is yet another red flag.

For a restful night, avoid caffeine and electronic devices at night. Instead, wind down with a warm shower and keep your room dark and cool. Aim for 6 to 7 hours of sleep for a start, and sync up your internal clock by turning in and waking up at fixed times. That includes weekends, however strong the temptation to sleep in may be.

5. Be proactive with regular health checks
Health checks often take a backseat when there is no urgency. Ironically, when symptoms do show up, they can be much more challenging to remedy.

Malaysia’s Ministry of Health recommends an annual screening for pre-diabetes and T2DM for individuals above 30 years old, but high-risk individuals – including those who are overweight or have a family history or diabetes – should start health checks for TD2M even before turning 30. Age aside, people with above-average blood sugar levels (pre-diabetes) ought to attend checkups every 3 months; then every 6 months after they’re stable.

Start diabetes prevention early
Reducing your risk of diabetes doesn’t happen overnight. Instead, it’s about cultivating positive habits that reinforce one another and eventually become a lifestyle. Nutritious meals, restful nights, and adequate exercise pave the way for a healthy BMI and, over time, you’ll see the fruits of your labour in the next health screening.

It’s never too late to start making simple changes in your lifestyle to prevent diabetes. Talk to our advisor today to find out how to live life healthier.

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