Diabetes prevention: Be more physically active

Why being active is so important to your health

Building a habit of regular physical activity is one of the best things you can do for your health because:

  • It's good for your heart. 
  • It helps you reach and maintain a healthy weight. 
  • It helps control blood glucose levels. 

What kind of exercise should I do, and how much should I exercise?

Type of exercise

What it is

Examples

How much/how often?

Aerobic exercise

Activities that get your heart and lungs working

Brisk walking, swimming, biking, dancing

At least 150 minutes per week

Resistance training

Activities that build muscle strength

Lifting weights, using resistance bands, using weight machines at the gym

At least 2 sessions per week

 
Plan ahead for exercise safety

What's most important is that you find ways to move more that you really enjoy and that you think you'll stick to on most days. Speak with your doctor before beginning a new fitness regimen, though: not all types of exercise are right for all people, and people with medical conditions, especially diabetes, must take special precautions.

Other safety considerations:

  • If you aren't feeling well (e.g., you have a fever, cold, or flu), skip exercising for the day. Start again as soon as you feel better.
  • Warm up before you do any exercises. Try walking and lightly pumping your arms first.
  • Wear the right shoes for the activity or exercise you're doing.
  • Drink lots of water while doing activities, unless your doctor has recommended you limit your fluid intake.
  • If at any point you feel pain, stop. Exercise may cause a bit of discomfort or make you feel a little tired. But it should not be painful.
  • Record your blood glucose before, during, and after exercise to note patterns and fluctuations and to plan for future exercise. This is especially important when you first begin a new fitness activity.

Diabetes prevention: Eat healthier

Examining your diet and eating habits is a great first step to reducing your risk for type 2 diabetes. That's because what you eat – or don't eat – directly affects your risk. You might be wondering how. Here's the path from the foods you eat to type 2 diabetes:

  • Your body turns the carbohydrates you eat into glucose.
  • As glucose levels increase, your pancreas pumps out insulin, which helps your cells absorb that glucose.
  • If you eat too much of the wrong kinds (and not enough of the right kinds) of foods, it can lead to your body's cells becoming resistant to insulin.
  • This resistance makes your pancreas pump out even more insulin.
  • Your insulin production eventually wears down and fails, at which point you have developed type 2 diabetes.

Here are some key steps you can take to improve your eating habits and prevent type 2 diabetes:

  • Choose foods rich in fibre: Fibre can be found in certain green vegetables, fruits, legumes (peas, beans, and lentils), oat bran, rice bran, psyllium, and barley. Fibre helps to reduce cholesterol and slow digestion, which helps improve blood glucose control.
  • Consume more whole grains: Evidence has shown that diets rich in whole grains help prevent diabetes, while those high in refined carbohydrates (white bread, white rice, and other carbs that cause a sharp increase in blood glucose) increase your risk.
  • Focus on "good" fats: Avoid foods high in saturated fats, and stay away from trans fats altogether. Instead, eat foods that contain "good" fats – mono- and polyunsaturated fats, which can help to lower your diabetes risk. These fats can be found in salmon, nuts and seeds, avocado, tofu, and omega-3-enriched products, such as eggs.
  • Cut back on sugary drinks: The sugar in pop and juices can cause increased blood glucose, but the weight gain from drinking too many sugary drinks may also be to blame. Opt instead to drink water, tea, or coffee.
  • Pick the most nutritious sources of protein: Limit your intake of red meat and processed meats. Even if consumed in small amounts, these foods have been found to increase the risk of diabetes. Switch to leaner, more nutritious protein sources, like poultry, fish, low-fat dairy, and nuts.
  • Ask for help: Should the pursuit of nutrition prove too much to handle, reach out for help. Ask your health care provider to recommend a registered dietitian, who can work with you to create a diet plan that suits your health needs and your lifestyle.

Diabetes prevention: Manage your weight

Why weight management really matters

If you are overweight or obese, you have more fatty tissue, which can make your cells more resistant to insulin – a risk factor for diabetes. And your diabetes risk is increased if you carry much of your fat in your abdomen.

You may be more motivated to manage your weight if you know that your risk of death from heart disease and some forms of cancer increases with excess body fat.

Choose a safe and realistic weight management program

All too often, fad diets result not only in regaining lost pounds, but in putting on extra weight as well. That's because safe, effective and – most importantly – long-term weight loss requires 2 important things:

  • permanent changes in the way you eat
  • making exercise a habit

When it comes to losing weight, slow and steady wins the race! A diet and physical activity plan that you will stick with, and that promotes weight loss of at most 0.5 kg to 1 kg (1 to 2 pounds) per week, is ideal.

Safe and realistic diet plans...

  • ...incorporate exercise: Burning energy through exercise means you can achieve weight loss without having to cut your calorie consumption as drastically. As well, studies have shown that regular exercise is one of the biggest predictors of keeping the weight off.
  • ...make recommendations based on sound science: A safe weight-loss program makes its claims based on large-scale studies that have been reviewed by reputable health care professionals.
  • ...meet daily recommended intakes: It's important to make sure you are getting all the protein, vitamins, and minerals you need. Because it can be difficult to meet your targets while restricting calories, be sure to discuss nutritional supplements with your physician or dietitian.
  • ...include plans for maintenance: Your program should help you form the habits you need to keep the weight off. Remember, healthy eating is a way of life – not just a 2-week plan.

A registered dietitian can help you determine a plan for losing weight while maintaining a healthy and nutritious diet. A weight management plan should include healthy eating and increased physical activity. Achieving a healthy weight through an active lifestyle decreases your risk of illness and can give you a general feeling of well-being.

Diabetes prevention: Quit smoking

Smokers are 30% to 40% more likely than non-smokers to develop diabetes. Add to this startling statistic that smoking also increases your risk of heart disease, stroke, and certain types of cancer.

Spending some time preparing to quit will help increase your chances of successfully quitting. Focus on the following 5 steps when you're preparing to quit smoking:

  • Know your smoking cues.
    • Make a list of the times and situations you smoke, including the times you most want to smoke.
    • List your smoking cues – after your morning coffee, while talking on the phone, after a good meal – and choose alternate coping strategies
  • Make changes in your environment.
    • Get rid of things that support your habit – like ashtrays and lighters.
    • Change your daily routes and routines to avoid smoking cues (examples: skip morning coffee, avoid alcohol, eat lunch in a different spot, and change your commute).
  • Gather your support team
    • Talk to your family doctor about your options, including medications.
    • Tell other people about your intentions as a way to increase your accountability to your goal.
    • Make a list of support people to help you through rough spots.
  • Pick a quit date.
    • Look ahead on the calendar and schedule your quit date during a time of relative stability.
    • Avoid dates that coincide with situations like starting a new job or going on a holiday trip.
  • Think through barriers.
    • List craving strategies (e.g., drinking water, getting a back rub, sucking on a cinnamon stick, going for a walk).
    • Add extra physical activity to your day and pay attention to your eating habits to help maintain weight.

Most smokers take several tries to successfully quit. With each attempt, you learn about what works for you – and what doesn't work. Incorporate what you learn into your next attempt. It's a process some refer to as "turning stumbling blocks into stepping stones."