According to the CDC, (opens in a new tab). Unfortunately, many people who have diabetes don’t know how to manage it, causing it to be the 7th leading cause of death in the United States. For this reason and many others, it’s incredibly important that those living with diabetes know how to manage the condition.
In this blog post, we’ll discuss four essential diabetes management tips for living a healthy life and keeping your diabetes under control.
1. Stay Active
Exercise is a crucial part of managing diabetes, largely because of how it affects insulin sensitivity and blood sugar levels. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that tells the body what to do with blood sugar, or glucose, whether that be to store it or use it for energy. For people with type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease, their pancreas no longer produces insulin properly due to the immune system damaging the pancreas. For those with type 2, their body has become resistant to the effects of insulin, causing the body to overproduce insulin until the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas no longer work properly.
Insulin sensitivity, then, refers to how responsive the body is to the presence of insulin. This issue tends to affect those with type 2 diabetes more than those with type 1, though (opens in a new tab) in people with type 1. There are several factors that can decrease a person’s insulin sensitivity, including low activity levels.
Luckily, by exercising and getting active, a person’s insulin sensitivity can be improved. When your muscles contract during exercise, your cells are able to use glucose for energy whether or not insulin is present. And when insulin is present, the cells in your muscles are better at using glucose during and up to 24 hours after working out. Ultimately, this heightened insulin sensitivity leads to lower blood sugar levels.
That said, improved insulin sensitivity and lower blood sugar levels aren’t the only ways exercise can greatly benefit a person with diabetes. Exercise also can also help you control your cholesterol levels, reduce your risk of heart disease and nerve damage, and help you lose weight. All of these benefits make exercise an important part of any diabetes management plan.
The goal is to get at least 150 minutes, or 2.5 hours, of moderate physical exercise a week. That could mean getting in 20-25 minutes of exercise every day, which could be easier than it sounds. Some housework requires at least that, like mowing the lawn. It’s also important to keep in mind that exercise can and should be fun! Find something you enjoy doing, like dancing around the house to music or doing yoga in the backyard. Regardless of what you choose to do, getting those 150 minutes of exercise can greatly improve your health.
2. Eat Well
Often, one of the biggest lifestyle changes a person with diabetes needs to make is to their diet. What we put into our body can greatly affect many aspects of our health, and by choosing better options for meals and snacks, you’ll have more control over your blood sugar levels, which is crucial to proper diabetes management. For example:
- Fruits and vegetables can benefit your health in many ways, but for diabetics in particular, they can be a helpful tool in blood sugar management. In particular, high-fiber options like apples, bananas, oranges, strawberries, carrots, beets, broccoli, and artichokes can help slow the rise of your blood sugar after a meal.
- Grains are also high in fiber, especially whole grains, which should make up at least half of your grains for the day. Next time you go grocery shopping, keep your eyes out for whole-grain options for bread, cereal, spaghetti, tortillas, English muffins, bagels, crackers, and more.
- Protein is an important macronutrient that helps your body repair and create cells. You can get your protein from lean meats and skinless chicken or turkey, though plant-based proteins tend to be particularly good for diabetics because they also contain high amounts of fiber. Examples of plant-based proteins include beans, hummus, lentils, peas, edamame, and tofu.
- Heart-healthy fats like those found in avocados, nuts, olive oil, and fish like salmon, mackerel, and tuna can help you lower your cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of heart disease.
- Water is one of the most important things we can give our bodies. Instead of juice, soda, or other beverages, try drinking water to support your body and reduce your intake of calories and sugar.
The easiest way to stick to these foods is by shopping smart at the grocery store. Start at home by planning out what meals and snacks you want to have that week, which can help you avoid making impulsive choices at the store. Once you know what you want, make a list of everything you need to pick up. Finally, before heading out, check in with your hunger and grab a snack if you need to. After all, no one likes to shop for groceries while hungry!
3. Maintain a Healthy Weight
There are two ways to get an idea of whether or not you’re at a healthy weight: BMI and waist circumference. BMI, or body mass index, is a measure of your weight in relation to your height; to see where you fall. However, BMI doesn’t account for belly fat, which plays an important role in predicting a person’s risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Regardless of BMI, we know that women with waist circumferences over 35 inches and men with waist circumferences over 40 inches are at a higher risk for these conditions.
Luckily, losing weight can lower a person’s BMI, waist circumference, and risk. Plus, this doesn’t have to mean losing a lot of weight. Just losing 5% - 10% of your body weight can improve a person’s health. And, for people with diabetes, shedding those extra pounds can make a noticeable difference in blood sugar levels. As discussed earlier, better insulin sensitivity can make managing diabetes much easier, and losing weight can help improve that sensitivity.
Plus, if you start exercising and eating with your diabetes and health in mind, weight loss will very likely happen on its own. However, if you still struggle to lose weight even with these lifestyle changes, consult your doctor to discuss .
4. Keep Up to Date With Your Doctor
Speaking of consulting with your doctor, making regular appointments with your doctor is another big part of diabetes management. Your doctor can help you keep your blood sugar levels under control, ensure that you’re taking the right medications, and help you make the lifestyle changes listed above. Left untreated, diabetes can lead to a number of serious health problems, including heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and blindness. By working with your doctor to monitor your diabetes and keep it under control, you can reduce your risk of these health problems.