Lifestyle & Management
At three years after beginning the Diabetes Prevention Program, people at risk of diabetes were 71 percent less likely to get the disease. The program focuses on a healthy diet, weight loss, and exercise. In contrast, metformin (a diabetes medication) caused an 11 percent reduction in risk of new diabetes diagnoses.
Diet and Exercise
Changes to diet and exercise can help people with diabetes manage their blood sugar levels and avoid limits on their activities. Benefits include:
- Improve overall health
- Help manage blood glucose level
- Decrease risk for complications from diabetes
Your healthcare providers can help design a diet and exercise program that is right for you.
Below are other lifestyle changes and preventative steps you can make.
- Eating small amounts at each meal.
- Eat a diet high in fiber. Eat cereals, breads, and pasta made with whole grains instead of white flour. Substitute brown rice for white rice and sweet potatoes for white potatoes.
- Read labels on foods and choose those containing at least 3 grams of fiber per serving.
- Eat 6 to 9 servings a day of a variety of brightly-colored, low calorie fruits and vegetables. Good choices include leafy greens, broccoli, red peppers, carrots, berries, apples, and oranges. Choose fruit canned in its own juice instead of sugary syrup.
- Drink water or unsweetened tea instead of fruit juices, soft drinks, or other drinks high in sugar.
- Avoid eating highly processed and prepared foods. These foods are often loaded with fat, calories, and salt. They often have unhealthy things, like saturated fats and a lot of sugar.
- At fast food restaurants, choose the salad option (with low-fat dressing). At family-style restaurants, choose broiled poultry, fish, or lean meat entrees with steamed vegetables. Skip cheesy, buttery, or creamy sauces. Choose oil and vinegar dressings on salads.
- Limit the amount of alcohol you drink.
- Make sure that less than 35 percent of total, daily calories come from fat. The healthiest fats are found in foods like avocados, walnuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, peanut butter, and fatty fish (such as salmon, sardines, and trout).
- Choose olive and canola oil for cooking and salads.
- Choose foods high in protein, including eggs, low-fat dairy products, lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, and nuts.
- Save desserts and other sweet treats for special occasions.
People with pre-diabetes or diabetes should exercise 20 to 30 minutes at least three times a week. Even more benefits come from exercising 20 to 30 minutes on most days.
- Doing yard work or cleaning the house, especially if they raise the heart rate
- Swimming and water aerobics
Exercise classes are fun in a group. A teacher can help a person prevent injuries. Classes are at many local hospitals, community and senior centers, and adult education programs. Check with your insurance plan to see if you are eligible for a Silver Sneakers program. This program provides people 65 and over with free access to local fitness centers.
Ask the diabetes educator questions so that you fully understand how to manage your diabetes. Common questions involve meal size and eating carbohydrates. A tool known as the glycemic index might be helpful to guide food choices because it ranks foods according to how they affect blood glucose.
Caregivers may need training to take over a person’s self-management program if the person with diabetes has disabilities.
These tips can help:
- Don’t put unnecessary demands on yourself.
- Schedule time for things you enjoy.
- Keep a positive attitude and focus on the things in your life that are going well.
- Talk to someone about the things you find stressful.
- Exercise. It can relieve stress.
- Learn and use simple relaxation techniques, like listening to soft music or meditating.
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Family history of heart problems
Preventing and managing risks for heart disease in older adults with diabetes is especially important. These steps include:
- Losing weight if necessary.
- Increasing physical activity.
- Taking statins for high cholesterol, when needed.
- Quitting smoking. The benefits of quitting are high in people with diabetes.
- Examine your feet every day
- Take good care of toenails. If you need help, see a podiatrist (foot doctor)
- Your healthcare provider needs to examine your feet at least once a year
Looking at your feet daily with the aid of a small handheld mirror can help catch foot problems early. Diabetes-related nerve damage can prevent you from feeling the damage. You need to see a healthcare professional right away about any changes to your feet or any signs of damage. These include sores, ulcers, or discolored toes.
- Having trouble sleeping, concentrating, or remembering
- Feeling more tired than usual
- Sudden weight gain or loss
- Losing pleasure in doing things you usually enjoy
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, talk with your healthcare provider. Treatment can help you feel better quickly.
- You experience memory problems
- Others have told you they’re concerned about your memory
- You’re having trouble managing any of your daily activities (for example, balancing your checkbook or taking your medications).
Your healthcare provider will likely do memory tests and check your medications.
Be sure to let your healthcare provider know if you’ve had a fall.
Know How To Recognize Symptoms
Despite your best efforts, you could experience problems. If you have any of the following symptoms, contact your healthcare provider.
Very High Blood Glucose
This doesn’t happen often, but it is a serious problem, mostly for older adults. A spike in glucose can be caused by a sudden illness, particularly an infection, or certain medications. Symptoms include:
- Physical weakness
- Lack of energy
Low Blood Glucose
Low blood glucose usually occurs when a person takes too much diabetes medication, or if they skip a meal. Illness and infections can also cause low blood glucose. Symptoms include:
What to Do
Symptoms of low and high blood sugar levels can be confusing. So, you should measure your blood glucose level at the first sign of symptoms. Then contact your healthcare provider right away. If you aren’t able to measure your glucose, call your provider promptly.
If your blood glucose is low, you should be able to raise it quickly by having some sugar. You can:
- Eat a piece of candy,
- Have a spoonful of honey, or
- Drink a half glass of fruit juice
- Keep hard candies available in case of need.
These sugar boosts don’t last long. So, eat a meal as soon as possible.
If your blood glucose is frequently or severely low, your healthcare provider will need to check your diabetes treatment plan and may change it or refer you to a diabetes care specialist.
Other Steps in Diabetes Care
To help monitor whether you may be developing diabetes-related problems, work with your healthcare provider to:
- Review all the medications you are taking that might affect your blood glucose. For example, certain water pills (diuretics) or steroid medications for asthma or arthritis.
- Have a urine test every year. Having a protein called albumin in your urine can be an early sign of kidney damage.
- See your dentist twice a year to keep your teeth and gums healthy.
- Get a flu shot every year. Talk to your healthcare provider about getting a vaccine for pneumonia (pneumococcal vaccine).
- Protect your skin from the sun with hats and clothing, and keep your skin clean and moisturized. Take care of cuts and bruises to prevent infections.
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