Living with Diabetes
If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, simple changes to your lifestyle can improve your blood glucose levels and minimize your risk of complications. Follow the tips below to reach your full health potential and add years to your life.
Being overweight or obese can increase your odds of developing diabetic complications, such as heart disease. Losing even a few pounds can help you better manage your diabetes. Reducing portion size, eating nutritious foods, and exercising are major contributors to weight loss.
- Eat more vegetables. Limit vegetables that are starchy, such as potatoes.
- Choose whole grain foods over foods with simple sugars or refined grains and flours. Choose whole grain cereals, oatmeal, pasta, breads, and crackers.
- Eat lean protein foods, such as fish, beans, soy, eggs, and skinless chicken and turkey.
- Fruit can curb your cravings for sweets.
- Choose low-fat milk, yoghurt, cheese, cottage cheese, soy milk, and diary.
- Eat healthy fats in moderation, such as vegetable oils, olives, avocados, nuts, seeds, mayonnaise, and margarine with plant sterols and stanols.
- Reduce intake of high-calorie and/or sugary snacks, such as cookies, ice cream, cakes, and chips.
- Limit portion sizes. Eating too much, even if it’s healthy food, can cause weight gain.
- Limit alcohol consumption. Women should have one drink or less per day, and men should have two drinks or less per day.
- Increase your daily physical activity.
Exercise and physical activity help to decrease your weight and increase your cells’ ability to take in glucose. Regular exercise has been shown to lower your blood glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol. Other benefits of regular exercise include improved cardiovascular function, increased muscle strength, decreased stress, and increased joint flexibility. Exercise also boosts your self-esteem and mood, helping to relieve some of the depression that is common with diabetes.
Physical activity can lower your blood glucose up to 24 hours or more after a workout by making your body more sensitive to insulin. Test your blood glucose before and after exercise to learn how your blood glucose levels change with exercise. Understanding your body’s pattern can help you prevent your blood glucose from going too high or too low. You may need to eat before exercise to prevent significant changes to your blood glucose or you may need to speak with your healthcare provider to modify your medication doses. Certain drugs, such as insulin or sulfonylureas, increase the risk of hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. See the Frequently Asked Questions section for tips on how to treat an episode of hypoglycemia.
Follow the tips below to help lead a healthy, physically active life.
- Try to get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise (walking, gardening, canoeing) or vigorous exercise (jogging, swimming, jumping rope) each week.
- Spread out your exercise over at least 3 days during the week. Do not skip more than 2 days of exercise in a row.
- If you are trying to lose weight and keep it off, aim for 60 minutes of aerobic exercise per day.
- Lift weights or do other strength training exercises at least 2 days a week.
- Use shorter sessions if it helps you. Several 10-minute sessions of exercise have similar health benefits as a 1-hour long exercise session.
- Start slow. Gradually increase the length and intensity of your physical activity if you were inactive before. Start with 5-10 minutes of exercise a day and build up to 30 minutes of moderate or vigorous activity a day.
- Make exercise enjoyable. Listen to music or ask someone to exercise with you.
- You don’t necessarily have to go to the gym to exercise. Playing a sport, hiking outdoors, or gardening or house cleaning can all provide physical workouts. Find something you enjoy to help encourage you to keep up a program of exercise.
Heart Healthy Tips
Diabetes increases your risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. Some of the risk factors for heart disease are common in people with diabetes, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol. If you have diabetes, you can protect your heart by managing your ABCs (A1c, Blood pressure, Cholesterol, and Smoking). Modifying your diet, increasing your daily physical activity, and quitting smoking can decrease your risk of heart disease. The tips below are a great start to a longer, healthier life.
- Help manage your blood pressure with some lifestyle changes. Follow the dietary and exercise tips found above to improve the condition of your heart and lower your blood glucose levels.
- A1c is a measure that shows your average blood glucose level over the past 3 months. The A1c goal for many people with diabetes is below 7%. However, this goal is individualized and may be higher or lower depending on the person. Lowering your A1c can improve your health as high blood sugar levels can damage your heart, blood vessels, nerves, eyes, and kidneys.
- Limit salt intake to less than 2,300 milligrams per day. Fewer than 1,500 milligrams per day is ideal for most adults with high blood pressure. Check labels for sodium content and be wary of foods with high salt content, such as processed foods, cheese, seafood, olives, and some legumes.
- Increasing your daily intake of potassium can also help you control your blood pressure. The more potassium you eat, the more sodium you lose through urine. The recommended potassium intake for an average adult is 4,700 milligrams per day. Many foods are high in potassium, including some fruits, vegetables, fat-free dairy products and fish. Some examples of potassium-rich foods include bananas, sweet potatoes, apricots, milk and yoghurt, potatoes, tomatoes, tuna, greens, and mushrooms.
- Smoking is a proven risk factor for heart attack and stroke. It increases the buildup of fatty substances in your arteries and can increase your blood pressure. You can find tips on how to quit smoking in the Frequently Asked Questions section.
- Improve your cholesterol levels by eating the right kinds of fats in moderation. Unsaturated fats, which are liquid at room temperature, may help improve your blood cholesterol when used in moderation in place of saturated and trans fats. Some sources of unsaturated fats include fish (salmon, trout, herring), some plant-based foods (avocados, olives, walnuts), and vegetable oils (olive, canola, sunflower). Limit saturated fats and trans fats. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and found in red meat and dairy products, such as butter, cream, and cheese made from whole milk. Saturated fats should make up less than 6% of your daily calories. Trans fats, also known as partially hydrogenated oils, are created in an industrial process that makes liquid oils more solid. Trans fats are found in many fried foods and some baked goods (crackers, pie crust, cookies, pastries).
- American Diabetes Association. Healthy Food Choices Made Easy. https://www.diabetes.org/nutrition/healthy-food-choices-made-easy.
- American Diabetes Association. Fitness. https://www.diabetes.org/fitness.
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Diabetes, Heart Disease, and Stroke. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/preventing-problems/heart-disease-stroke.
- American Heart Association. Shaking the Salt Habit to Lower High Blood Pressure. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/changes-you-can-make-to-manage-high-blood-pressure/shaking-the-salt-habit-to-lower-high-blood-pressure.
- American Heart Association. How Potassium Can Help Control High Blood Pressure. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/changes-you-can-make-to-manage-high-blood-pressure/how-potassium-can-help-control-high-blood-pressure.
- American Heart Association. The Skinny on Fats. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/cholesterol/prevention-and-treatment-of-high-cholesterol-hyperlipidemia/the-skinny-on-fats.