“You have diabetes.” About 1.5 million Americans receive that diagnosis every year.1 It’s news with lifelong consequences.
But newly diagnosed patients, and those who have been living with diabetes for years, should know that many people can successfully manage the disease with lifestyle changes. In fact, a 2017 study published in the journal BMJ demonstrated that adjustments to diet and lifestyle could result in remission of type 2 diabetes. 2
The challenge is finding – and maintaining – the right balance of nutrition, exercise, and lifestyle choices to keep the condition in check. Patients should work with their clinicians and care teams to determine the correct approach for managing their condition because everyone has different disease complications, resources, and support networks.
Here are five tips for managing diabetes through exercise and nutrition:
1. Count carbohydrates – The American diet includes lots of carbohydrates, including pasta, bread, milk, dairy, and desserts, which break down into glucose. People with diabetes need to monitor their glucose levels and that means managing carb intake. Carbohydrate counting is an effective way of managing daily carbohydrate consumption. The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for carbs is 130 grams per day or 45-60 grams per meal.
2. Read nutrition labels – The nutrition facts label required on all packaged foods makes carb counting easier. People with diabetes should learn how to read nutrition labels and apply that information to their condition. It’s most important to understand:
- Grams of carbohydrates per serving – use this number to count overall carbs.
- Grams of sugar – avoid foods high in added sugar.
- Grams of fiber – focus on this beneficial carbohydrate which can reduce spikes in blood sugar. Experts recommend 38 grams per day for men and 25 grams per day for women.
3. Stay balanced - A balanced diet with the right amount of each nutrient group is the foundation of success for people with diabetes. An ideal balance is:
- 10-25% Protein
- 20-35% Fats
- 45-65% Carbohydrates 3
4. Move it – Regular exercise is important for everyone, but it’s especially important for people with diabetes because it helps them improve blood sugar levels and manage their weight. People with diabetes should check with their doctor before starting an exercise program and then start slowly, gradually increasing intensity based on their comfort level. Daily activities including housework and gardening all count towards the goal of getting 30 minutes of exercise a day. 4
5. Pump it up – Studies show that strength and resistance training are slightly more effective than aerobic exercise at managing HbA1C, a measurement of blood sugar level. People with diabetes should try adding exercises that use weights, bands, or body weight for resistance training. 5
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