A new study, which is said to be the largest of its kind to date, is among the first to explore how several healthy habits combined can prevent a higher diabetes risk.

The question we were trying to raise is whether there are added benefits to each individual lifestyle improvement you make, and it looks like that answer is definitely yes, says Jared Reis, Ph.D., lead author of the study and an epidemiologist with the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute in Bethesda, Maryland.

Diabetes is often called the silent killer because of its easy-to-miss symptoms, experts say.

The risk of developing Diabetes mellitus, or Type 2 diabetes can be reduced by as much as 80 percent by following a combination of five healthy lifestyle habits, a new research shows.

The strength of the association was really very dramatic and quite surprising.

The study, conducted by the National Institutes of Health, examined more than 200,000 men and women in eight states who are part of a long-running study on diet and health factors to see how each, alone and in combination, would be contributing to reduce the chance a person will get the disease.

In the mid-1990s, when they ranged in age from 50 to 71 and showed no signs of serious illness, the study participants answered detailed questionnaires about their diet, lifestyle, medical history, physical characteristics and demographic profile.

Those who were least likely to receive a diabetes diagnosis shared the following five key health attributes:

  • Normal weight - They were not overweight or obese, and maintained a body mass index below 25 (a threshold equivalent to 155 pounds for a 5-foot, 6-inch woman).
  • Nonsmoking - They had never been regular smokers, or they had been smoke-free for at least ten years.
  • Physically active - They got at least 20 minutes of heart-pounding, sweat-inducing exercise three or more times per week.
  • Healthy diet - They consumed a diet with lots of fiber, little trans fat, few refined or sugary carbohydrates, and a high ratio of good (polyunsaturated) to bad (saturated) fats.
  • Little to no drinking - They used alcohol in moderation, if at all -- two drinks or less a day for men, and one drink or less for women.

Of all five lifestyle factors, being overweight was linked most strongly to diabetes risk.

Studies have shown that having a healthy diet, exercising, maintaining normal body weight, abstaining from smoking and consuming alcohol moderately can lower one's risk of developing diabetes and other diseases.

CNN reports, additional lifestyle habits, on average, were associated with 31 percent and 39 percent lower odds of developing diabetes among men and women, respectively.

People who met all five standards had roughly 80 percent lower odds of a diabetes diagnosis than demographically similar people who led less healthy lifestyles, according to the study, which was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

The research, which will be published in the Sept. 6 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, showed that one can reduce the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by keeping just one of these five healthy lifestyle factors, study authors noted.

In 2010, 26 million Americans were diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, making it the most common form of the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The agency adds that it has been found to be the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S.