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COMMENT | Stay physically active to keep diabetes at bay

COMMENT | In conjunction with World Diabetes Day today, let's remind ourselves to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle in order to prevent diabetes. 

According to the National Health Morbidity Survey (NHMS) in 2019, the prevalence of diabetes among the Malaysian adult population was 18.3 percent, with 9.4 percent known and 8.9 percent of unknown diabetes. The prevalence has been in an increasing trend from 11.2 percent in 2011 and 13.4 percent in 2015.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020, our government had introduced a series of movement control orders ranging from complete to partial lockdowns. The 2019 NHMS reported that about one-quarter of our adult population was physically inactive. 

 However, with the lockdown during the past one and a half years, there may be an increase in the proportion of sedentary lifestyles among our population. A systemic review reported that an increase in sedentary behaviours was found among the adult participants during the pandemic.

Our population which has now been allowed to return to work on-site and with the opening of almost all sectors including parks and sports facilities should make good use of these facilities by incorporating physical activities in their working life. 

They need to have a work-life balance with physical activities included as one of their daily tasks or have it incorporated into their daily chores.

Despite most states moving into Phase 4 of the National Recovery Plan, a number of employees are still working from home in compliance with the standard operating procedures. 

Consequently, a long working duration from home with prolonged sitting in front of a computer or laptop, results in the continuation of a sedentary lifestyle. A sedentary lifestyle with long periods of sitting down, either working or during leisure time, may cause an increase in body weight and changes in the body’s metabolism, such as insulin resistance that could lead to type 2 diabetes. 

Hence, it is challenging for these working adults to alter their sedentary behaviours to an active lifestyle. To resolve this issue, the followings recommendations involving a top-down collaboration from policymakers, employers, municipals and individuals in the interpersonal and intrapersonal levels are required: 

  1. Policymakers: Government to disseminate relevant information via media platforms about the detrimental effect of long-term sedentary lifestyles on health
  2. Employers and municipals in the neighbourhood: Employers are encouraged to provide sit and stand workstations for employees to reduce prolonged sitting. On the other hand, municipals should improve the available recreational parks, hence encouraging leisure physical activities among the residents.
  3. Interpersonal: Social support from colleagues in the form of encouraging each other to take short stretching breaks during long hours of sitting. Family members and friends can also organise step-count competitions which discourage a sedentary lifestyle at leisure such as lying down when watching television programmes or playing computer games, instead of opting for walking or jogging with family members and friends in recreational parks.
  4. Intrapersonal: As for the individuals, finding a physical activity that they enjoy most will motivate them to continue adhering to it, thereby slowly changing their sedentary behaviour while working from home. Those physical activities can be as simple as gardening, singing and dancing with some favourite music, playing with children or pets.

With Covid-19 still an ongoing disease worldwide, working adults should not only comply with the standard operating procedures in workplaces or public places, but we also need to stay physically active to prevent type 2 diabetes which is also one of the risk factors for severe Covid-19.


NG YIT HAN is a PhD candidate and DR MOY FOONG MING is a professor from the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Universiti Malaya.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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