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Living Better With Type 2 Diabetes


11 Things You Can Do Today for a Healthier Future With Type 2 Diabetes

  • Lifestyle Changes to Better Manage Type 2 Diabetes

    When people are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, they may worry that they’re going to be sick and have a lot of health problems. “But you can have diabetes and still be healthy,” says Arcy Segura, CDE, health education manager at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. While diabetes is a chronic illness, there are many lifestyle changes you can make to better manage the condition and prevent — or delay — complications.

    “Dietary therapy and physical activity are the cornerstones of diabetes management,” says Jeffrey Powell, MD, FACE, chief of the division of endocrinology at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco, New York. Changing lifestyle habits can be difficult, but doing things like eating a balanced diet, exercising, checking your blood sugar, and getting enough sleep can really make a difference in how long and how well you live with diabetes. Try these 11 tips from Segura and Dr. Powell for a healthier future with type 2 diabetes.

  • Walk for 10 to 20 minutes after you eat.

    Walking after meals can lower post-prandial blood sugar and help with weight management. It doesn’t have to be a long walk. “Just 10 to 20 minutes of moderate movement can help bring blood sugars down when you do the activity after a meal,” Segura says. In fact, taking a 10-minute walk right after meals may even be more effective at keeping blood sugar levels balanced than taking a single 30-minute walk at another point in the day, according to a study published in the December 2016 issue of Diabetologia. To increase motivation, set post-meal alarms on your smartphone; try using a wearable fitness-tracking device to track your steps; or enlist a walking buddy, Powell suggests.

  • Use items around your house for strength-bearing exercise.

    Strength-training is a type of exercise that can make your body more sensitive to insulin and help lower blood sugar, and it should be part of everyone’s fitness regimen. But you don’t need to use fancy weight machines at a gym or even dumbbells. You can lift canned goods or bottles of water. Segura suggests putting two or three books into two different bags and doing arm raises with them. She also recommends doing calisthenics exercises like push-ups, sit-ups, squats, wall-sits, and lunges. If you haven’t exercised in a while (or if you’re elderly), Segura suggests starting lower with sets of five, rather than 10 or 15, and then adding more as you feel up to it.

  • Don’t fear your blood sugar meter – use it.

    Blood sugar meters measure and show you how much sugar is in your blood. “A piece of advice I find myself giving to every newly diagnosed patient is not to be afraid of a meter,” Segura says. “Sometimes patients just don't want to touch one. They feel like it’s a punishment if they have to use it, like their blood sugar must be bad if they have to check.” But Segura explains that the blood sugar meter is a tool to be used so that you can be better informed. “It gives you more control over your blood sugar,” she says, “and more power over your health.”

  • Make an annual eye doctor appointment.

    People with diabetes are at an elevated risk for eye problems, so it’s important to get examined by an eye doctor at least once a year. “Many times, when people are newly diagnosed with diabetes they haven’t seen an eye doctor for a while,” Powell says. Another common reason people don’t go is because they think their eyes are fine: “Many of the early signs of diabetic retinopathy don’t cause any noticeable visual symptoms or changes in vision,” he says. “Only the eye doctor can detect early diabetic changes in the eye before they cause visual problems.” If you haven’t already scheduled your annual eye exam, see to it!

  • Check food labels for carbs, not just sugar.

    Nutrition labels contain a lot of useful information for people with type 2 diabetes — but only if you learn how to interpret the label. “It’s not just sugar that affects blood sugar,” Segura says. “We also have to pay close attention to carbohydrates.”

    For example, the front of the package may indicate that a food is sugar-free, but when you check the “total carbohydrate” amount on the back of the package, it might be a different story. “We’ve got to look at all of the pieces: the sugar, the carbohydrate, the fiber,” Segura says. She adds that learning to analyze how these pieces work together takes time. The bottom line: Just because a package says that a food is sugar-free doesn’t mean you can eat as much of it as you want.

  • Avoid starch-only meals.

    Segura recommends eating at least three food groups at every meal. “It helps keep blood sugar more controlled throughout the day,” she says. Instead of just a bowl of oatmeal, have a cup of oatmeal with a handful of nuts and a piece of fruit. Instead of eating two pieces of toast, have a piece of toast, a boiled egg, and a banana. “That’s three food groups instead of just oatmeal or just two pieces of toast,” she says, explaining that it pushes people to think beyond just starch or starch-and-protein combinations. If you want to have a cookie or some other sweet for dessert, Segura recommends keeping your dinner starch-free and having just lean protein and vegetables, such as chicken breast and sautéed spinach or salmon and asparagus. It’s important to remember that a cookie or a piece of cake is a starch, she says.

  • Try a non-animal protein.

    When most Americans think of protein, what comes to mind is typically beef or chicken, and maybe pork, veal, lamb, or turkey. But there are many other proteins that make delicious options for a diabetes diet. “We don’t always need to have a protein from an animal,” says Segura, who often encourages her patients to try different sources of lean proteins, such as fish and shellfish, beans and legumes, and soy-based foods. Cheese and eggs are also proteins, though you may want to consider reduced fat-cheeses and egg whites, depending on your dietary needs.

  • Brush and floss your teeth.

    People with diabetes are at risk for periodontal disease, and the risk is greater if diabetes is poorly controlled. “There are also studies that correlate periodontal disease and cardiovascular disease,” Powell says. And since people with diabetes already have an increased risk of periodontal disease and cardiovascular disease, it's particularly important to practice good oral hygiene. Brush at least twice a day for a minimum of three minutes with fluoride toothpaste and floss at least once a day. 

  • Use positive self-talk.

    When it comes to diabetes management, people can be really hard on themselves. “Patients always want to tell me what they did ‘wrong,’” Segura says. “But I’m a lot more interested in what they were able to do well.”

    To this end, she encourages people to “keep their words to themselves nice,” to replace negative thoughts with positive ones, and to move away from thinking in terms of “right and wrong” or “good and bad.” Instead, she says, think of what’s helpful or not helpful, what’s easy on blood sugar or hard on it.

    Choice is also important. For example, if a patient chooses to eat pancakes for breakfast, he’s not doing anything “wrong,” Segura says. He’s just choosing to eat a food that’s going to be harder on his blood sugar. “This mindset helps people from feeling like they’re doing everything wrong,” she adds. “Feeling that way makes them want to give up.” 

  • Check your feet before bedtime.

    One in four people with diabetes develops foot problems, say experts at the Joslin Diabetes Center. The good news is that with proper care most people can prevent serious problems with their feet. “I tell patients to take a few seconds before they go to bed each night to look at their feet and toes, to check for any cracks in the skin, and to keep their feet well moisturized,” Powell says. “And don’t go barefoot.” If you do get a cut, breaks in the skin, or an ingrown toenail, talk to your doctor. Experts at the American Diabetes Association also recommend notifying your doctor if your foot changes shape or color, or if it hurts or suddenly becomes less sensitive.

  • Go to bed 30 minutes earlier.

    “More and more studies are coming out showing the detrimental effects of inadequate sleep — including not enough sleep or poor quality sleep — on people with diabetes,” Powell says. One recent study published in Family Medicine in July 2013 found that nearly 50 percent of people with type 2 diabetes are at an increased risk for a sleep disorder like sleep apnea. Another study published in Sleep Medicine in October 2014 found that sleep-disordered breathing interfered with glucose tolerance and insulin resistance. On the other hand, if you sleep longer and get high-quality sleep, you’ll be more likely to lower your blood sugar levels, say experts at the National Sleep Foundation. Solid slumber may also help with weight management, as poor sleep quality increases your risk of weight gain. 

  • Last Updated: 01/27/17