November is American Diabetes Month, an annual initiative led by the American Diabetes Association (ADA) that aims to raise awareness of the diabetes epidemic in the U.S.
More than 37 million Americans have diabetes, and an estimated one in five people with the disease don’t know they have it. Out of the more than 95 million American adults with prediabetes, more than 80% are unaware of their condition.
This month is a great time to change that, and you can make a real impact by getting tested for diabetes if you’re not sure about your blood sugar levels, and by taking proactive steps to fight back against the disease.
If you have diabetes (Type 1, Type 2, or gestational diabetes, which can develop during pregnancy), or you simply want to ensure your blood sugar levels are healthy, here are five ways you can more easily manage diabetes, and cut the risks of developing the disease later in life.
Five Tips for Managing Diabetes
Improve Your Diet
Although diabetes medication, including insulin, can be extremely helpful for managing the disease, making the right food choices is also key to keeping your blood sugar at a healthy level.
The sugar in your blood comes from carbohydrates, and the more carbs you eat, the higher your blood sugar will be. Foods that are high in carbs include candy, bread, pasta, and starchy vegetables such as white potatoes and corn, to name a few.
While the list of foods to avoid includes many of the usual suspects, some of the best foods for both managing and preventing diabetes come from across the different food groups:
- Fruits and vegetables - especially antioxidant-rich berries, citrus fruits, leafy greens and sweet potatoes.
- Whole grains - including barley, brown rice, whole wheat, oats, and quinoa.
- Proteins - lean meats such as chicken and turkey, as well as fish, eggs, nuts, beans, lentils, and tofu.
- Nonfat or low-fat dairy - milk, yogurt, and cheese.
By limiting high-carb foods and instead focussing on healthier options, you can maintain your blood sugar, and lower your chances of experiencing serious health problems from diabetes, including vision loss or cardiovascular issues.
If you have prediabetes, eating foods that keep your blood sugar levels healthy can delay and even prevent Type 2 diabetes from developing later on.
Make Exercise a Regular Habit
The benefits of regular exercise go well beyond diabetes, but it’s a central aspect of managing and preventing the disease.
That’s because regular exercise is closely tied to weight loss, lower blood pressure, and cholesterol management, not to mention lower blood glucose levels. Exercise has also been shown to boost the body's insulin sensitivity, which can counter insulin resistance.
If you plan to work out, the best time to do it is within one to three hours of eating, as your blood sugar level will likely be higher during this window.
if your blood sugar is too high (over 250 mg/dL), it’s also important to note that exercise can sometimes raise blood sugar even higher.
Get Better Sleep
Getting enough sleep is important for a myriad of reasons, but it’s especially important for diabetics, as they face a double-whammy when it comes to sleep deprivation.
Unstable blood sugar can lead to insomnia and the need to urinate more frequently at night. At the same time, long-term sleep deprivation can cause the body to produce less insulin and more cortisol, which is a stress hormone that interferes with insulin’s efficacy.
To fight back against the one-two punch of sleep deprivation, diabetics and anyone else with high blood sugar should focus on a sleep regimen that prioritizes at least seven hours of shut-eye each night. Additionally, you can:
- Carefully manage blood sugar levels, especially before going to sleep, to reduce fluctuations
- Keep a regular sleep schedule
- Avoid stimulants such as caffeine before bed
- Reduce screen time before lights-out
- Keep your bedroom cool, comfy, dark, and quiet
Adhering to many of the other tips on this list, such as maintaining a better diet and exercising regularly, will also help you achieve a better night’s sleep.
Lower Your Stress
While diet has a direct correlation to blood sugar levels, stress is not far behind. High levels of stress can speed up your heart rate, increase your blood pressure, and can send your blood sugar spiraling out of control.
The wide-ranging detriments of stress underscore the need for anyone with diabetes (or at risk of developing it) to include stress management in their wider plan for managing the disease.
While there are many strategies for countering stress, including prayer, meditation, support groups, and therapy, diet and exercise, again, can be extremely helpful in lowering stress and helping you better handle stressful situations.
Ultimately, getting a handle on your stress levels will depend on what works best for you, but it’s an important factor to keep in mind as you build out a larger plan for managing diabetes.
Monitor Blood Sugar and Make Adjustments
Last but not least, monitoring your blood sugar is hugely important—for diabetics, people with prediabetes, or anyone else who’s unsure on where they stand.
By checking in regularly and gaining a better understanding of the foods and other factors that increase or decrease your blood sugar, you’ll be better equipped to manage the symptoms of diabetes or prevent it from developing in the first place.
For regular blood sugar monitoring, you can test at home using a blood glucose meter, and at very least, you should make sure a blood sugar test is part of your next check-up.
Raising Awareness and Fighting Back
This November, make diabetes awareness and prevention a priority, for yourself, your loved ones, and the millions of Americans who suffer from this disease.
For more information about diabetes management and American Diabetes Month, visit the ADA here.