When it comes to type 2 diabetes (T2D), which affects approximately 90% of people living with diabetes, taking control of your health is key. Unlike type 1 diabetes, T2D can be managed and controlled – and even prevented – through healthy diet and lifestyle changes. This can be as simple as becoming more physically active or tweaking your diet to shed a few extra pounds.

But what sounds simple in theory may be difficult in practice. Whether you’re pre-diabetic (your blood sugar levels are high but not in the diabetic range) or already living with diabetes, learning to implement lifestyle changes and modifying eating and exercise routines can make day-to-day life challenging.

Dr. Gary F. Lewis, endocrinologist and professor at the University of Toronto’s Department of Medicine and Department of Physiology, shares some ways to take control of T2D so you can live a longer and healthier life.

1. Maintain a high level of physical activity

Keeping active is part of a healthy lifestyle for anyone – not just those living with T2D. Research shows that regular exercise can help you lose weight, maintain stable blood sugar levels and increase insulin sensitivity. When your body is sensitive to insulin, it doesn’t need to produce as much. According to the Canadian Diabetes Association, regular physical activity, along with healthy eating and weight control, can reduce the risk of developing T2D by 60%.

Dr. Lewis offers some easy ways to incorporate physical activity into your daily life: “Apart from recreational physical activity, this could include using stairs instead of escalators or elevators, parking further away from your destination rather than fighting for the closest parking spot, getting off public transportation one or two stops before your destination, walking during lunch hour or using exercise equipment while watching TV.” Every step makes a difference!

2. Eat healthy, wholesome, unprocessed foods

Along with exercise and medication, choosing the right foods is essential to managing T2D. For some, sticking to a healthy diet is the most challenging aspect of their condition. The good news is there are still ways to incorporate your favourite foods into meals. A registered dietician can talk to you about planning what to eat so you feel your best.

Moderation, balance and portion control are all things to keep in mind when planning meals and snacks. Eating three smaller meals a day with snacks in between and following the recommendations in Canada’s Food Guide can help keep your blood glucose levels in the right range. This means choosing plenty of green vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and unprocessed foods. “Whole foods contain fibre, have a high water content, are less calorie-dense than processed foods and often contain lower content of sugar, salt and fat,” says Dr. Lewis. “Limit the quantities of the food you consume. Even healthy foods in large quantities will promote weight gain.”

3. Monitor your fasting blood sugar

The results of a fasting blood sugar test reveal a lot about how your body processes glucose, which is key for diagnosing pre-diabetes or diabetes. “All adults should have their fasting blood sugar checked at minimum once every three years, even if they are healthy,” says Dr. Lewis. The test measures your blood glucose level after you've gone without food for at least eight hours. When fasting, glucagon, a hormone produced by alpha cells in the pancreas, is stimulated, which increases blood glucose.

Non-diabetics will produce insulin in response to the increased glucose level, but people with diabetes will produce either not enough insulin or no insulin at all, so will have significantly higher blood glucose readings. If you’ve been diagnosed with T2D, this test will be repeated periodically to monitor the effectiveness of medications and dietary changes.

Are you at risk of diabetes?

If both of your parents have T2D, there’s a 50% chance you will develop the disease, according to the experts at the Mayo Clinic. Complete the Canadian Diabetes Risk Questionnaire or visit your doctor for screening to determine if you’re at risk.

Whether you’re at risk or have already been diagnosed with diabetes or pre-diabetes, taking advantage of the expert advice available can help you live a bright and healthy life.