Type 2 diabetes is a chronic disease for which there is no cure; receiving this diagnosis is a frightening prospect for most patients. If you fail to manage diabetes, the risks are significant and include blindness and amputation.
Luckily, there are changes you can make to manage diabetes. Work with your doctor to determine appropriate lifestyle changes to improve your overall health and reduce your risk of developing severe complications.
Develop an Exercise Plan
One of the most important things you can do to improve your overall health is increase your level of physical activity. This is especially important for diabetics, as exercise helps improve blood sugar levels thanks to fact that glucose powers your body and its muscles.
Reaping these rewards doesn’t require long sessions at the gym. All you need is 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity each day, at least five days each week. You can hit your daily goal in a single stretch, or you can achieve it in shorter sessions, such as 15 minutes twice a day or 10 minutes three times a day.
The activity can be just about anything, so long as it increases your heart rate and breathing while allowing you to speak comfortably. Working in the garden, taking a walk, cleaning the house, or riding your bike all qualify as moderate aerobic activity.
Be sure to drink plenty of water before exercising, as well as staying hydrated during and afterward. Also, keep a snack or glucose tablet nearby in the event your sugar drops too low, too quickly. It’s a good idea to check your blood sugar before exercising as well as after.
Make sure you talk to your doctor before beginning an exercise program, especially if you’ve never exercised before or also have high blood pressure. He or she will recommend appropriate activities for you, as well as what your appropriate blood sugar level is and how to recognize when it drops too low. In addition, your physician provides instructions on the best time to take your medication, before or after exercising.
Diabetes and a Healthy Diet
We’ve said it before: you are what you eat. Everything you put in your body affects its health. This is true for everybody, but for diabetics, paying close attention to what you eat is especially important.
If you don’t know a lot about nutrition and how foods affect your body, you may only think of candy bars and soda as sugary threats to a diabetic. The reality goes much deeper than that.
After a diabetes diagnosis, you must start paying attention to serving sizes and carbohydrates. Your body turns carbs into glucose, which has a direct affect on your insulin levels. This is especially important to understand for anyone taking insulin. You also need to understand serving sizes, since the amount of carbs you actually consume depends on how many servings you ate. For example, a serving of bread is a single slice. That means your sandwich has two servings of bread, not one.
When you first start, you likely will need to measure out and portion your food, using a scale and/or measuring cups. Eventually, you’ll develop the ability to “eyeball” a serving.
You need to make sure that each meal is well-balanced. Your diet should focus on plant foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, nuts, beans, and legumes) and moderate amounts of lean proteins (a serving size here is between 4 and 6 ounces).
One simple change that makes healthy eating easier is changing the way you fill your plate. Start by filling half of your plate with vegetables or fruit, then add a serving of lean protein, and then add a serving of whole grains/starch. This one change goes a long way toward eating healthier.
Your doctor should have provided eating guidelines at the time of your diagnosis. You’ll also find loads of healthy eating resources on the USDA’s Choose My Plate site.
Pay Attention to What You Drink
As a diabetic, your new favorite drink should be water. You can spice it up with sliced fruit, berries, or cucumbers if plain water doesn’t appeal to you, but hydration is extremely important. Herbal and green teas are okay in moderation, and you can discuss coffee with your physician. Many doctors forbid diabetics from drinking coffee with flavored creamers and sugars.
Avoid sugary beverages, including soda, sport and energy drinks, and fruit juice. Yes, fruit juice. Many people think of juice as a healthy drink, but it causes severe spikes in blood sugar.
You also need to take care when drinking alcohol. This is true for everyone, of course, but diabetics must recognize alcohol’s affect on blood sugar. Talk to your doctor before drinking; he or she may approve moderate drinking (one drink per day) if your diabetes is under control. If you do drink alcohol, consider options with a lower glycemic load, such as dry wines, and never drink on an empty stomach.
Alcohol tends to lower blood sugar, so check yours before going to bed if you had a drink, even if it was hours earlier. You need a small snack if it registers outside the goal area of 100-140 mg/dL.
Manage Diabetes and Stress
You might be surprised to learn that hormonal changes brought on by stress often cause blood sugar to spike. Throw in people’s tendency to seek out comfort food in times of stress and managing your diabetes is much more difficult during stressful times.
When you check your blood sugar, try keeping a log that tracks your blood sugar and stress levels at the time. You may discover patterns this way. You can also practice techniques to deal with stress. There are many, but common methods to de-stress include exercise (even if it’s just walking up and down a flight of stairs or walking around the office), journaling, and meditation. Your doctor may also be able to offer suggestions on dealing with stress.
Working with Your Doctor
With so much conflicting advice out there, your best resource for managing your diabetes is your personal physician. Unlike the well-meaning advice from your friends and family, your doctor has the experience and expertise, as well as intimate knowledge of your health, necessary to advise you on diet, exercise, and more.