November is American Diabetes Month, a great time to learn how healthy lifestyle habits can help prevent and manage the condition. At St. Luke’s Health, the team at our Diabetes Care program helps you move forward with your health every month of the year. These self-care tips are a great way to start living healthy with diabetes.
Lifestyle Changes to Help Control Diabetes
More than 37 million Americans have diabetes—that’s 1 in 10. Another 96 million American adults have prediabetes. If not well controlled, diabetes can lead to an array of serious health problems. The good news is that healthy eating and exercise can reduce the risk of developing diabetes, manage blood sugar levels and prevent diabetes-related health problems.
Plan to Eat Well
Healthy eating is especially important for people with diabetes or prediabetes. While no foods are off limits, it is important to know how the foods you eat affect your blood sugar levels. The goal of your eating plan is to control blood sugar levels, manage weight and reduce heart disease risk. It all starts with good habits such as:
Checking nutrition labels
Drinking water instead of juice, soda or sports drinks
Eating healthy meals at regular times, which helps the body make the best use of insulin
Paying attention to portion sizes
Replacing salt with herbs and spices
Foods to Focus On
Healthy carbohydrates are an important part of a nutritious diet for everyone, including people with diabetes. Complex carbohydrates provide the energy your body needs while keeping blood sugar levels in check. Dietary fiber is a type of carbohydrate that helps regulate insulin resistance and control blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
Good sources of complex carbohydrates and fiber include:
Heart-healthy fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which may help reduce the risk of heart disease.
Good fats found in foods such as avocados, canola, and olive or peanut oils, and nuts such as walnuts or almonds can help lower cholesterol levels.
Foods to Avoid
Simple sugars can raise your blood sugar level quickly. Stay away from refined carbohydrates, such as those found in white bread or soft drinks. Be on the lookout for unexpected sources of added sugars.
Because diabetes can cause atherosclerosis—a narrowing or blocking of blood vessels that increases your risk of heart disease and stroke—it’s important to eat a heart-healthy diet, too. To reduce your risk of atherosclerosis, limit:
Cholesterol in high-fat dairy and animal products
Salt (sodium) to 2,300 mg a day, or less if you have high blood pressure
Saturated fats from dairy products, animal proteins, and coconut or palm kernel oil
Trans fats in processed snacks, shortening or margarine
The importance of exercise
Physical activity is an important part of any diabetes prevention or management plan. For the greatest benefits, try to get a balanced mix of the four types of exercise.
Balance training strengthens your core (chest, abdomen, back and buttocks) and lower limbs to enhance stability.
Endurance (aerobic) exercise improves cardiovascular fitness.
Flexibility training stretches the muscles to improve limberness.
Strength training (weightlifting or resistance exercises) tones major muscle groups.
If you have diabetes, how much you should exercise and which activities to choose depend on your overall health situation. Talk to your physician before starting any new exercise routine to make sure your plan will be safe and effective. Some precautions to take before, during and after exercise include:
Staying hydrated. High blood glucose reduces fluid levels in the body, so it’s important to drink plenty of fluids while exercising to prevent dehydration.
Checking blood sugar levels before and after exercising. Different physical activities can make blood sugar go up or down.
- Protecting your feet. Diabetes can cause nerve damage (neuropathy), especially in the feet. When walking, jogging, hiking or doing step aerobics, wear cotton socks and well-fitting shoes, and check your feet afterward for blisters or injuries. If you have neuropathy in your feet, choose low-impact, non-weight-bearing exercises such as:
- Seated exercises
Find a diabetes specialist near you.