8 Simple Lifestyle Changes You Should Make to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is largely preventable by making simple lifestyle changes and adopting certain healthy lifestyle practices.

According to International Diabetes Federation (IDF), 537 million adults worldwide, or 1 in 10 adults, between the age of 20-79 are living with diabetes which is responsible for 6.7 million deaths in 2021.

Back in March 2022, the New Straits Times reported that one in two adults in Malaysia is overweight while 30% of children between the age of 5 and 13 years old are obese. The report also stated that the cases of overweight people and people suffering from obesity have risen, increasing the risk of Malaysians getting chronic diseases and non-communicable diseases.

Diabetes around the world in 2021 infographic.
Diabetes around the world in 2021 (Source: Diabetes Atlas)

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic disease that arises when the pancreas does not produce enough hormone called insulin that helps regulate and lower glucose levels in the bloodstream by sending glucose to the muscles, liver, fat cells, and other body tissues. Diabetes can also occur when the body develops resistance or inability to react toward insulin (called insulin resistance).

When the body is not able to produce insulin or use it effectively, the body will be in a hyperglycemic condition as the level of glucose in the bloodstream increases. Over the long-term period, high glucose levels could lead to organ and tissue failure and damage the body.

The main types of Diabetes

Contrary to popular belief, there are three main types of diabetes – type 1, type 2, and gestational. What are the differences, you might ask? Let’s talk about the uncommon ones first:

1. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that often appears during adolescence, but it can develop in a person at any age. Researchers in the past often link type 1 diabetes to genetics. However, not everyone who suffers from type 1 diabetes has a family history of it.

2. Gestational diabetes (GDM) is a diabetes condition that happens to pregnant women where high blood glucose arises during pregnancy which could cause complications to both mother and child. Although GDM normally disappears after pregnancy, the mother and child could still potentially develop type 2 diabetes later in life.

Now on to the common one – type 2 diabetes

3. Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes in Malaysia, where the body does not regulate and convert or use glucose as fuel. But before developing type 2 diabetes, most people have prediabetes. Prediabetes is often left undiagnosed because the blood sugar level is higher than normal but not high enough for a diagnosis.

According to the National Health and Morbidity Survey 2019 (NHMS 2019), one in five adults in Malaysia suffers from type 2 diabetes, which is about 3.9 million adults aged 18 years and above. The number has increased to 18.3% as compared to 13.4% in 2015.

National Health and Morbidity Survey 2019 on diabetes in Malaysia
Source: National Health and Morbidity Survey 2019

What causes type 2 diabetes?

There are many factors that can cause type 2 diabetes in a person. But according to a report, one of the main causes of diabetes is obesity, which can be linked to the lifestyle of very high carbohydrate society we live in.

What lifestyle changes you should make to prevent getting type 2 diabetes?

The saying, “prevention is better than cure” is accurate when talking about the prevention of type 2 diabetes because it is a chronic health condition that can lead to other chronic health issues like stroke, heart disease, kidney failure, blindness, and even cancer.

Make these lifestyle changes to prevent or delay getting type 2 diabetes and other potential chronic diseases that follow:

1. Reduce sugar and refined carbohydrates from your diet. Foods that are high in refined carbohydrates and sugar raise blood sugar and insulin levels in the bloodstream, which over time may lead to type 2 diabetes.

2. Watch your food portions. Cutting down on eating excessive food portions, especially carbohydrates will help lower your insulin and blood sugar levels hence decreasing the risk of diabetes.

3. Get 30 minutes of exercise regularly. By exercising regularly, you will be able to increase the insulin sensitivity of your cells. Physical activities have been proven to reduce insulin resistance and lower blood sugar in adults as the glucose in your body is used as fuel when you exercise.

4. Drink water. One of the most important lifestyle changes that can be made to avoid getting type 2 diabetes is to swap high-sugar beverages with good old water. Sugary beverages like soft drinks, pressed fruit juices and trendy drinks like boba milk tea and frappucino have been linked to an increase of type 2 diabetes including in adults.

On the other hand, increasing water intake may lead to better insulin response and blood sugar management. Another bonus is your waist measurement will reduce significantly when you cut sugar from your daily diet.

5. Lose the excess weight. People that carry extra weight particularly visceral fat – the layer of fat located in your midsection and around abdominal organs – are normally associated with prediabetes, type 2 diabetes, or at least inflammation and insulin resistance, especially in adults.

Losing that excess weight even by 5-7% could help lower the risk of getting type 2 diabetes. With proper weight loss management and strategies, coupled with regular exercise and good eating habits, losing excess weight may significantly reduce your risk of diabetes.

6. Minimize sodium-high fast food intake. Our country’s reputation as one of the well-known food heaven in Asia could be one of the reasons why Malaysia had the highest share of the population being classified as obese in 2019.

According to a survey conducted by Rakuten Insight in 2020, fast food was the most popular purchase made by Malaysians who ordered food via the mobile delivery app. Results showed that approximately 76% of female and 77% of male respondents revealed that their favorite choice is fast food when ordering deliveries.

The easy access to 24-hour mamak, food trucks, and fast-food restaurants could also be promoting the consumption of highly processed food that are often unable to meet the recommended dietary requirement.

7. Drink coffee or tea. This might be controversial, but a study conducted by the National Library of Medicine found that daily coffee or tea intake helped reduces type 2 diabetes risks.

Coffee has been proven to have anti-inflammatory components that help protect a person against diabetes onset. Another study also found that daily tea consumption lowers the risk of diabetic microvascular complications that affect small blood vessels in the body.

8. Optimize vitamin D levels. Maintaining an adequate level of vitamin D is important for health. Studies found that a person with vitamin D deficiency is at higher risk of getting type 2 diabetes due to lower insulin resistance and improved blood sugar levels.

However, a person who is diagnosed with vitamin D deficiency and may not get it sufficiently from food alone should speak to a doctor or a physician before proceeding to supplement their daily dietary requirement with vitamin D.

Now that you’ve read the tips, it’s time to make a lifestyle change by focusing on what makes you healthier and reduces the risk of getting type 2 diabetes.

If you want to let loose occasionally and enjoy yourself with family and friends, make it a habit to find a better choice of food and beverages as much as possible.

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