Diabetes is a serious disease that is not just about taking a pill to reduce high blood sugar levels. Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to serious complications including heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, eye disease and nerve disease. Despite this, positive lifestyle changes to improve diabetes can have a significant effect, and may even reduce the need to take medication to control the condition.
Diabetes is a disease that can be controlled; it does not need to control you. These lifestyle changes should always be undertaken in conjunction with any advice or medication prescribed by your doctor.
Take steps to control weight
Maintaining a healthy weight is essential for anyone with diabetes. If you are overweight, a small amount of weight loss of just 5-10% of your body weight can significantly reduce your blood sugar levels. Visit a dietitian for a weight management plan, learn what foods are best to eat and what foods you need to limit. Focus on your needs, what you are capable of cooking/the time you have to cook and the type of foods and recipes you enjoy. Developing a weight management plan tailored to your needs will give you the best chance of successfully maintaining your goal weight long term.
Regular physical activity
Everyone should aim for 30 minutes of physical activity each day. This can help to prevent diabetes; and for those with existing diabetes it helps to control blood sugar levels. Moderate intensity aerobic exercise is best, and activities may include brisk walking, dancing or cycling. Sitting all day is the worst possible thing for diabetes, as this reduces the body’s sensitivity to insulin, the hormone which regulates sugar levels. If you haven’t moved all day, find some time to put your favorite music on and get up and move.
Alcohol in moderation
Alcohol can alter blood sugar levels and contribute to weight gain; therefore people with diabetes should limit their alcohol intake and never binge drink. Alcohol is high in unnecessary calories, and if it causes a sudden drop in sugar levels this may lead to a “hypoglycemic attack” (when the blood sugar levels go too low) and you may end up in hospital. If you want to drink alcohol, always have alcohol with a meal. Men should have no more than two standard drinks a day, and women no more than one standard drink a day.
The harmful effects of smoking are widely known. For people with diabetes, who are already at increased risk of heart attack, stroke, kidney problems, eye damage and nerve damage; smoking increases this risk even further. Quitting smoking is the best positive lifestyle change to improve your health and longevity, especially if you have diabetes. If you are a smoker, talk to your doctor for advice on how to quit now.
Manage cholesterol and high blood pressure
High cholesterol and high blood pressure both increase the risk of developing all the complications of diabetes. Controlling these two factors helps in minimising these complications. Reducing your saturated fat intake and choosing healthier fats to eat and cook with will help to lower cholesterol levels. If necessary, cholesterol medication may be needed. High blood pressure may be increased further by a diet high in salt, so read food labels to avoid having too much salt. The maximum recommended daily sodium (salt) intake is 2300mg. Avoid the temptation to add extra salt to your food, try using other herbs and spices instead. If needed, high blood pressure may also require medication.
There are a number of positive lifestyle changes that can be made to improve diabetes outcomes. Diabetes is a condition that can be controlled with your commitment to be healthy. If you start by making a few small changes, gradually these lifestyle changes will be helping you effectively control your diabetes with very little effort. For more information on diabetes, visit WebMD.
This article is of a general nature and in no way should be seen as a substitute for your own doctor’s or health professional’s advice. Before commencing any health treatment, always consult your doctor.