Healthy Living
June 09, 2017 By Hanh Huynh
Running from the diabetes tsunami

In 2006, I was diagnosed with prediabetes, which means my blood glucose (sugar) levels were higher than normal, but not high enough to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes. The road that brought me here was years of leading a sedentary lifestyle along with unhealthy eating habits: I spent an average of 10 hours per day sitting at my desk working on the computer with a drawer full of candies, chocolates and cookies. I was overweight and constantly out of breath, even when just tying my shoelaces.

My family physician informed me that I needed to modify or change the way I had been living my life. Being Vietnamese, I had eaten white rice from the time I was born. Up to that point, I usually had five bowls of rice per dinner along with lots of fatty foods and practically no fruits or vegetables. I discussed the diagnosis with my wife, Lien and we decided we had to change the way our family ate.

From that day on, I reduced my rice intake from five to two bowls per meal, and I started to eat more vegetables and fruits to feel full. The simple rule was to eat vegetables and fruits of different colours, as well as what was available seasonally: a quarter of my plate was rice, the other quarter was fish or chicken without the skin, and the rest was vegetables. One day per week we ate a vegetarian meal, usually tofu and/or soybean products and lots of vegetables.

Quarterly blood tests showed that my new diet had helped to reduce my blood sugar and bad cholesterol; however, I still hadn’t reached the target level for my blood sugar. The doctor said I needed to incorporate physical activity into my daily life if I wanted to stay off oral diabetes medication.

Since then, my philosophy is that my day only has 23 hours, the 24th hour is dedicated to exercise. I have developed a routine that combines aerobic and resistance training; for example, pushups (see above), stretching, jumping in one place, breathing and meditation. As soon as I get up, I exercise for one hour before breakfast because several studies suggest that when we exercise before eating breakfast, our body is forced to use the fat stored as energy. The good news? My blood sugar levels are almost back to normal.

Dr. Hanh Huynh completed his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in science, and PhDs in Medicine at the University of British Columbia (UBC). He has worked as an assistant professor in the Neurology Department at the Medical School in Omaha, Neb.; as a trainer in the areas of depression, hypertension and diabetes at a French pharmaceutical company in Vietnam; and for a humanitarian organization helping Vietnamese street children from being sexually and physically exploited. Since his return to Canada in 2002, Dr. Huynh has taught problem-based learning (PBL) to first- and second-year medical students at UBC, trained new PBL tutors in the medical program, and worked as an assistant professor and course director for UBC’s Northern Medical Program. As a researcher, he’s interested in the prevention of type 2 diabetes, diabetes and obesity, and cancer.  He has also volunteered as a speaker for Diabetes Canada’s Northern region, promoting healthy lifestyle modification to members of local communities. Most recently, he helped to establish the official collaboration between the UBC Faculty of Medicine and the Ho Chi Minh University of Medicine and Pharmacy (UMP) in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon).

How did a diagnosis of prediabetes change your life? Tell us now.

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Did you know it’s men’s health week (June 12 – 18) in Canada? There’s no time like the present to improve your health. For more information, visit

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