You don’t need lots of “health hacks” or pricey supplements to manage your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The basics of a healthy lifestyle are the best defense against the disease. Here’s what to do:
1) Maintain your right body weight
Maintaining the optimal weight for your height is one of the two most important things you can do to prevent and delay the onset of type 2 diabetes, according to Dr Raymond Tso, medical director at Sun Life. Body Mass Index or BMI is the most common tool for measuring ideal body weight. There are plenty of free BMI calculators online that will tell you if you are in a risk group, and how much weight you should aim to lose.
2) Get moving with regular exercise
Regular exercise, says Dr Tso, is another key way to prevent type 2 diabetes. Adults should do a minimum of 30 minutes, four to five times per week. Exercise should be cardiovascular in nature – vigorous activity that makes you pant and sweat.
Walking is the easiest form of cardio and much better than doing nothing at all. Cycling is perfect for anyone new to exercise or overweight. Swimming and rowing will give you the full-body workout everyone needs.
The biggest new exercise trend for 2020 has been working out at home – and its popularity has not altogether waned after lockdowns. There are now thousands of apps and live-stream exercise classes available online that can give you a cardio fix without opening your front door. Dr Tso says evidence suggests COVID-19 may have reversed the diabetes trend in developed countries. “People spend more time at home and cooking more and caring for their health,” he says.
3) Eat more greens
According to the Centre for Health Prevention at Hong Kong's Department of health, “fruits, vegetables and legumes are excellent sources of antioxidants and other compounds found in plants that can strengthen immunity and reduce risks of chronic diseases like diabetes. However, a vegetarian or vegan diet does not guarantee optimal health unless balanced nutrition is also adopted.”
Along with fats and dairy foods, proteins are a key part of a balanced diet. Kidney beans, chickpeas, tofu, lentils, edamame and quinoa are excellent sources of plant-based protein. They are also rich in B12, the vitamin you need for a healthy nervous system and blood cells. And there's an ever-expanding repartee of high-tech plant-based proteins coming to market, including beef-style burgers made from soybeans that have the taste, texture and aroma of grilled meat. Some even bleed like meat.
4) Get enough sleep
Sleeping “less than five hours a night is another risk factor,” according to Asian Diabetes Prevention Initiative, a joint research program by the University of Singapore and the Harvard School of Public Health. “Working night shifts, which disrupts sleep rhythms, has also been associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes,” the initiative says. Sleep apnea, where breathing repeatedly stops and starts while you sleep, “may further increase risk of type 2 diabetes.”
To improve your sleep, set your alarm for the same time every day to synchronise your internal clock. Avoid electronic devices like phones and laptops before bed. They emit blue light, which also plays around with your internal clock. Keep your bedroom at around 20°c and use fewer blankets. And try your best not to use alcohol or sleeping pills to help you doze off. These may help in the short run but as your body becomes more tolerant, you'll spend more time tossing and turning in bed.
5) Be proactive with regular health checks
Regular health checks with a family doctor can increase peoples' awareness of what they can do to prevent type 2 diabetes, according to the Hong Kong Department of Health. Singapore's Ministry of Health recommends screening for type 2 diabetes should be carried out every three years for people over 40. Those already exhibiting higher than average blood sugar levels should have checkups every three months; then every six months once stable. At-risk individuals, including those with a family history of diabetes or who are overweight, should also start health checks for type 2 diabetes before they turn 40.
More tips on reducing the risk of diabetes through nutrition and exercise can be found at GoWell, a preventive wellness program under the life and health insurance plan SUN Fit and Well. This new generation wellness plan is suited for young people who want to keep healthy from prevention to recovery. Through GoWell, SUN Fit and Well clients are entitled to Gold membership which allows them to avail of special access and privileges to premium workouts and various wellness activities that will help them stay fit and healthy.