You’ve been diagnosed with diabetes and are still not quite sure how to handle all the challenges it brings. Well, that’s not surprising, because it can come as a shock to some people how far off the mark they’ve been with diet and exercise.
Sitting too much and not getting 30 minutes or so of activity in at least three days a week? Or maybe you’ve been eating a lot of fast food and refined carbohydrates that get processed quickly and dumped into your bloodstream, pushing your blood sugar levels out of whack. These are the kinds of poor habits that have set you up for “diabetes mellitus” – the formal term for the disease.
Well, there are steps you can take that may not be as difficult as you think. Diabetes management comes down to a healthy diet plan, for starters, and the right exercise for diabetes. That’s because of insulin, the hormone needed to regulate your blood sugar. When you have high blood sugars over a long period time, your body’s production and use of insulin is malfunctioning.
For type 1 diabetics – about 10 percent of people diagnosed with the disease – the body can’t produce insulin, so they rely on insulin injections.
People with type 2 diabetes can’t make enough insulin or their cells just don’t react to it the way they should, so they’ve become insulin-resistant. There’s a term you may be familiar with.
The good news is that if you have type 2 diabetes, you may be able to lower blood sugar levels and keep them in the healthy range without medication. You just need to make some good resolutions and stick with them.
In fact, both type 1 and type 2 diabetics can do a lot with a diet plan and exercise to help manage the symptoms that can come with the disease. As a diabetic, you’re now at risk for diabetes foot problems from nerve damage and poor circulation, and cholesterol challenges that put an emphasis on lowering cholesterol levels. Other complications are kidney and eye damage, and a greater risk for heart disease and stroke. The key is getting to know what makes your blood sugar level rise and fall, and understanding how to control these factors.
So take those health tips for diabetic patients as serious business – whether you’re “borderline” diabetic or have been diagnosed as type 1 or type 2 diabetic.
We hear a lot about diabetes and blood sugar, so we assume that swearing off added sugars and sweets is the answer to blood sugar control. But it’s more about understanding and limiting carbohydrates in your diet. You need them for fuel, of course, but they’re the foods that can have the greatest impact on your blood sugar.
You want to choose good sources of carbohydrates that are low on the glycemic index, which means they’ll release glucose more slowly and steadily to help you keep blood sugar levels in the healthy range. These foods also contain fiber (we all need fiber!) which also helps keep blood sugar stable.
Some examples? Choose sweet potatoes instead of white ones. Skip the fruit juice and eat the whole fruit instead. Try whole grain breads and whole wheat pasta instead of white bread and white pasta. Even better, try to include more whole grains in your diet like millet, spelt, and good old fashioned barley.
Diabetes management is not just about the type of food you eat, but when you eat and how much! Make sure to have regular meals and snacks, with an eye on portion sizes, to keep your blood sugar on an even keel. And on that note, make every meal well-balanced: You want a mix of vegetables, fruits, starches, proteins and fats.
Too little food can result in dangerously low blood sugar or hypoglycemia. On the other hand, too much food can spike your blood sugar too high; that’s when hyperglycemia results. It’s a delicate balance – and one you need to really pay close attention to for good diabetes management.
We know that exercise is important for your heart and cardiovascular system, for circulation, for energy, for good skin… The list goes on. But it’s crucial for diabetes management. That’s because when you exercise, your muscles use sugar – glucose – for energy, and regular physical activity makes your body use insulin much more efficiently. The more strenuous the activity, the longer the effect of blood sugar control will last.
You don’t need to take up jogging or training for a triathlon (god, no!). Even light activities like gardening, housework or being on your feet for extended periods can improve your blood sugar levels.
Sticking with regular, scheduled exercise, though, is your best bet for improving your blood sugar control.
That can be easier said than done. So make a plan and commit to a schedule for a daily session, aiming to get your heart rate pumping. If you’re new to exercise, start with a 10-minute walk and work your way up to 30 minutes at least three days a week. Or try to break it up into two or three shorter walks during your day. You’ll be surprised by how easily this can become an enjoyable part of your routine! You’ll want to make it daily, and grab a friend to join you.
Do these good things for your body and your diabetes management will be well in hand, making you feel more in control – and healthy, too.
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