If you have diabetes, you're not alone. More than 100 million U. S. adults are living with diabetes or prediabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
As of 2015, 30.4 million Americans—9.4% of the U.S. population—have diabetes. Another 84.1 million have prediabetes.1 Diabetes is a serious condition. It can lead to big health problems when it isn't well-managed. But when you take charge, you can help yourself live a much healthier life. These four steps may help you control your diabetes.
Step 1: learn about diabetes
Make sure you understand what type of diabetes you have. There are three different types: type 1, type 2 and gestational diabetes. Learn all you can about it. Talk with your doctor and ask questions. Get advice from a dietitian or certified diabetes educator to help with your diet. Ask your treatment team for help when you need it.
Step 2: know your diabetes ABCs
- A is for A1c
This is a test that shows what your blood glucose has been over the last 3 months. The A1c goal for many people is below 7. But your healthcare provider can tell you what A1c target is right for you. As you've read, high blood glucose can harm your heart, blood vessels, kidneys, feet and eyes.2
- B is for blood pressure
The goal for most people with diabetes is a measure below 140/90. High blood pressure makes your heart work too hard.
- C is for cholesterol
Cholesterol is a waxy material that is found in foods and made by your body. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or bad cholesterol, can build up and clog blood vessels. That can cause a heart attack or stroke. High-density lipoprotein (HDL), or good cholesterol, helps remove cholesterol from your blood vessels. Ask your doctor what your cholesterol numbers should be.4
Step 3: manage your diabetes
- Work with your healthcare team to reach your ABC targets.
- Follow your diabetes meal plan. It will guide you in deciding how many meals and snacks to eat each day.
- Choose healthy foods. They include fruits and vegetables, fish, lean meats, chicken or turkey without the skin, dry peas or beans, whole grains and low-fat or skim milk and cheese.
- Keep fish and lean meat and poultry portions to about three ounces. That's about the size of a deck of cards. Bake, broil or grill fish, lean meat and poultry.
- Eat foods that have less fat and salt.
- Eat foods with more fiber, such as whole grain cereals, breads, crackers, rice or pasta.
Everyone benefits from healthy eating, so the whole family can take part. You may be able to fit your favorite foods into your meal plan and still manage your diabetes.
What and when you eat affect how your diabetes medicines work. Talk with your doctor about when to take your diabetes medicine. It may help to make a chart with the following: names of your medicines, when to take them, and how much to take.
For people taking certain diabetes medicines, following a schedule for meals, snacks and physical activity is best. You can work with your healthcare team to make the diabetes and meal plans that are best for you.
Get 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity on most days. Physical activity is an important part of being healthy and controlling your blood glucose. Here are some important things to keep in mind:
- Ask your doctor what exercises are safe for you.
- Brisk walking is one great way to move more.
- Make sure your shoes fit well and your socks stay clean and dry. Check your feet for redness or sores after exercising. Call your doctor if you have sores that do not heal.
- Warm up and stretch for 5 to 10 minutes before you exercise. Then cool down for several minutes after.
- Always wear your medical identification or other ID.
- Find an exercise buddy. Many people are more likely to do something active if a friend joins them.
- Ask your doctor whether you should exercise if your blood glucose level is high.
- Ask your doctor whether you should have a snack before you exercise.
- Know the signs of low blood glucose, shown below. Always carry food or glucose tablets to treat it.
Exercise can affect what you eat and when you need to eat. Be aware of your blood sugar when you exercise. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases tells us that low blood glucose can make you feel shaky or weak. You may be confused, irritable, hungry or tired. You may sweat a lot or get a headache. If you have any of these symptoms, check your blood sugar.5 Ask your doctor how often to test your blood sugar and what steps to take if it’s low. Having a snack may help in this situation.
These tips may help you stay on the right track with managing diabetes:
- Stay at a healthy weight by using your meal plan and by exercising.
- Ask for help if you feel down. Talk with a mental health counselor, support group, member of the clergy, friend or family member.
- Learn to cope with stress. Stress can raise blood sugar. While it is hard to get rid of stress, you can learn to handle it.
- Stop smoking. Smoking increases your risk of many diabetes complications.2
- Take your medicine even when you feel good. Ask your doctor if you need aspirin to help prevent a heart attack or stroke. Tell your doctor if you cannot afford your medicine or have side effects.
- Check your feet every day for cuts, blisters, red spots and swelling. Call your doctor right away about sores that don't heal.
- Brush your teeth and floss every day. This can help you avoid problems with your mouth, teeth, and gums.
- Check your blood sugar. Talk with your doctor about how and when to test. Show your results to your healthcare team. Ask how you can use your test results to help manage your diabetes.
- Check your blood pressure if your doctor tells you to. Do it as often as advised.
- Report any changes in your eyesight to your healthcare team. Treating problems early can help protect your vision.
Step 4: get routine care
See your doctor regularly. Your doctor can help find and treat problems early. Get an A1c test and have your blood pressure, cholesterol and weight checked. Ask your doctor what your goals should be for each of these. Your doctor should also review your self-care plan.
Keeping a close eye on your diabetes and your health takes effort. But it is worth it. After all, it can help you live a longer, healthier and more active life. Expert SeniorBridge Care Managers can help, too, by coordinating doctor visits, assessing dietary needs, and designing a personalized care plan that takes all your healthcare needs into account.
1 “More than 100 million Americans have diabetes or prediabetes,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, last accessed July 5, 2018, https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2017/p0718-diabetes-report.html
2 “Diabetes, Heart Disease, and Stroke,” National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, last accessed July 5, 2018, https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/preventing-problems/heart-disease-stroke
3 “Diabetes, Heart Disease, and Stroke.”
4 “Diabetes, Heart Disease, and Stroke.”
5 “Low Blood Glucose (Hypoglycemia),” National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, last accessed July 5, 2018, https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/preventing-problems/low-blood-glucose-hypoglycemia