The diabetes epidemic: Don’t become a statistic!

The Bottom Line

  • The overwhelming prevalence of diabetes is startling, but you can reduce your risk by committing to a few simple lifestyle changes.
  • Research confirms that a combination of eating well and exercising regularly helps keep the amount of sugar in your blood low, which reduces the risk of developing diabetes.
  • Try a lower calorie and low-carbohydrate diet, a Mediterranean or DASH diet, and avoid fatty foods to help prevent diabetes.
  • Aerobic exercise and yoga can help you manage your blood sugar.

Diabetes is a serious illness. This chronic disease disrupts the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar and is a major cause of blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, stroke, lower limb amputation, and even early death (1). The number of people living with diabetes worldwide is already at epidemic proportions and is predicted to rise even higher. In Canada, 3.4 million people – 9.3% of the population – were living with diabetes in 2015, with that figure predicted to grow to 5 million (12.1% of the population) by 2025 (2).

While these are alarming facts, there are ways that you can avoid becoming a statistic and prevent diabetes and the challenges that go along with it.

Think you’re not at risk? Some of the main risk factors for diabetes are overweight or obesity, consistently eating unhealthy foods, and leading a sedentary lifestyle, which can cause the amount of sugar in your blood to rise. Higher than normal blood sugar is called “pre-diabetes,” which can lead to diabetes over time (3). Recent research shows that combined diet and exercise programs can help otherwise healthy adults lower their risk of high blood sugar and prevent diabetes (4;5;6).

Sure, you’ve heard it all before: eating right and exercising are good for you. But what exactly should you eat and do to avoid diabetes? Recent research provides some answers.

What the research tells us

What is a “healthy diet” when it comes to diabetes prevention? Restricting high calorie and high fat foods is a good first step, and research shows that low carbohydrate diets work to help decrease blood sugar (4;6;7;8). The Mediterranean Diet and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Diet also help control blood sugar and reduce other risk factors associated with diabetes (9;10).

As for exercise, the best choices are activities you enjoy, since you are most likely to keep doing them! For optimal results, try aerobic training which is proven to help regulate blood sugar; the benefits are even greater with higher intensity activity levels (6;11). And why not mix things up by taking a yoga class? There’s sound evidence that – among other benefits – yoga helps lower blood sugar (13;14).

If you’re not already in the habit of eating well and exercising regularly, preventing diabetes is one more compelling reason to commit to those important lifestyle changes.

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  1. Public Health Agency of Canada. Diabetes in Canada: Facts and figures from a public health perspective.[Internet] 2011. [cited August 2017]. Available from
  2.  Diabetes Canada. Diabetes statistics in Canada. [Internet] 2017. [cited August 2017]. Available from
  3.  Mayo Clinic. Diseases and conditions: Diabetes. [Internet] 2014. [cited September 2017]. Available from
  4.  Zhang X, Imperatore G, Thomas W, et al. Effect of lifestyle interventions on glucose regulation among adults without impaired glucose tolerance or diabetes: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Diabetes Res Clin Pract. 2017; 123:149-164. doi: 10.1016/j.diabres.2016.11.020.  
  5. Balk EM, Earley A, Raman G et al. Combined diet and physical activity promotion programs to prevent type 2 diabetes among persons at increased risk: A systematic review for the community preventive services task force. Ann Intern Med. 2015; 163(6):437-451. doi: 10.7326/M15-0452. 
  6. Aguiar EJ, Morgan PJ, Collins CE et al. Efficacy of interventions that include diet, aerobic and resistance training components for type 2 diabetes prevention: A systematic review with meta-analysis. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2014; 11(2). doi: 10.1186/1479-5868-11-2. 
  7. Snorgaard O, Poulsen GM, Andersen HK, et al. Systematic review and meta-analysis of dietary carbohydrate restriction in patients with type 2 diabetes. BMJ Open Diabetes Res Care. 2017; 5(1):e000354. doi: 10.1136/bmjdrc-2016-000354. 
  8. Schwingshackl L, Dias S, Hoffmann G. Impact of long-term lifestyle programmes on weight loss and cardiovascular risk factors in overweight/obese participants: A systematic review and network meta-analysis. Syst Rev. 2014; 3:130. doi: 10.1186/2046-4053-3-130. 
  9. Huo R, Du T, Xu Y, et al. Effects of Mediterranean-style diet on glycemic control, weight loss and cardiovascular risk factors among type 2 diabetes individuals: A meta-analysis. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2015; 69(11):1200-1208. doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2014.243. 
  10. Shirani F, Salehi-Abargouei A, Azadbakht L. Effects of Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet on some risk for developing type 2 diabetes: A systematic review and meta-analysis on controlled clinical trials. Nutrition. 2013; 29(7-8): 939-947. doi: 10.1016/j.nut.2012.12.021. 
  11. Grace A, Chan E, Giallauria F et al. (2017). Clinical outcomes and glycaemic responses to different aerobic exercise training intensities in type II diabetes: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Cardiovasc Diabetol. 2017; 16(1):37. doi: 10.1186/s12933-017-0518-6. 
  12. Kumar V, Jagannathan A, Philip M et al. Role of yoga for patients with type II diabetes mellitus: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Complement Ther Med. 2016; 25:104-112.doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2016.02.001. 
  13. Pai L, Li T, Hwu Y et al. The effectiveness of regular leisure-time physical activities on long-term glycemic control in people with type 2 diabetes: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Diabetes Res Clin Pract. 2016; 113:77-85. doi: 10.1016/j.diabres.2016.01.011. 
  14. Cui J, Yan JH, Pan L, et al. Effects of yoga in adults with type 2 diabetes mellitus: A meta-analysis. J Diabetes Investig. 2017; 8(2):201-209. doi: 10.1111/jdi.12548. 

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Many of our Blog Posts were written before the COVID-19 pandemic and thus do not necessarily reflect the latest public health recommendations. While the content of new and old blogs identify activities that support optimal aging, it is important to defer to the most current public health recommendations. Some of the activities suggested within these blogs may need to be modified or avoided altogether to comply with changing public health recommendations. To view the latest updates from the Public Health Agency of Canada, please visit their website.