Living Healthy with Diabetes

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Adopting a healthy lifestyle can help you manage your diabetes. It may also improve your critical health numbers, including weight, blood sugar, blood pressure and blood cholesterol.

Managing weight

Being overweight or obese makes it hard to manage Type 2 diabetes. It also increases the risk for high blood cholesterol and high blood pressure —  risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Two ways to help manage weight are to eat healthy and be more physically active. To lose weight, you must take in fewer calories than you use through normal metabolism and physical activity.  

Eating healthy

Making healthy food choices, including controlling portion sizes and reading food labels, is key to maintaining the right weight and preventing or managing diabetes.

With so many food options, it can be hard to know which ones are healthy. The core elements that make up a healthy dietary pattern include: 

  • All types of vegetables 
  • Fruits, especially whole fruit 
  • Fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese, and/or lactose-free versions and fortified soy alternatives
  • Whole-grain foods 
  • Protein foods, including lean meats, poultry, seafood, beans, nuts and soy products 
  • Oils, including vegetable oils and oils in food, such as seafood and nuts

Limit foods and beverages higher in added sugars, saturated fat and sodium. Some limits are:

  • Added sugars: Less than 10% of calories per day starting at age 2. Avoid foods and beverages with added sugars for those younger than age 2. 
  • Saturated fat: Less than 10% of calories per day starting at age 2. 
  • Sodium: Less than 2,300 milligrams per day and even less for children younger than age 14. 
  • Alcoholic beverages: Adults of legal drinking age can choose not to drink or to drink in moderation by limiting intake to two drinks or less daily for men and one drink or less daily for women. Drinking less is better for health than drinking more. There are some adults who should not drink alcohol, such as women who are pregnant.
Keep a food and blood glucose log

You can track how foods affect your body by writing down what you eat, when you eat it and how it affects your glucose levels. Check your blood sugar 1 hour to 1.5 hours after eating to see how your body reacts to various foods.

Healthy eating and a busy lifestyle

Many of us are on the go and don’t spend a lot of time at home. But even when you’re not at home, eating right should still be a priority. Learn how to prepare healthy meals for the whole family.

You can properly nourish your body wherever life takes you if you think ahead. Remember these tips for eating on the go:

  • Bring a healthy lunch and snacks to eat throughout the day. This will help you stick to healthy food options and be less tempted by unhealthy ones.
  • Reduce your caffeine intake and stay hydrated. Keep a bottle of water handy to drink throughout the day.
Eat healthy on a budget
Check out our Top 10 Tips for making healthy choices without breaking the bank.
Use diabetes-friendly recipes
Our online collection of tasty, diabetes-friendly recipes can satisfy your cravings, whether sweet, savory or somewhere in between.

Regular physical activity

People who are overweight and lose as little as 7% of their body weight and who increase physical activity can decrease their risk of diabetes mellitus by more than 50%. If you’ve already been diagnosed with diabetes, physical activity and weight management can help control the disease and minimize negative health consequences.

For good health, healthy adults need at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, or an equivalent combination of both. For example, you can meet the recommendation by walking briskly 30 minutes twice during the week and then jogging 20 minutes on two other days. A brisk walk that raises your heart rate is an example of a moderate-intensity aerobic. 

Work with your health care team to customize a plan for you to get moving and get resources about getting active from the American Heart Association.

Other important facets of a healthy lifestyle are:

Quitting smoking

Cigarette smoking is the leading avoidable cause of death in the United States. It's also the most important modifiable cause of premature death.

What people with diabetes should know about smoking

Smoking has several serious health effects. For people living with diabetes, it could: 

  • Decrease good cholesterol.
  • Temporarily raise blood pressure.
  • Increase the risk of blood clots.
  • Make it more difficult to exercise.

Smokers are 30% to 40% more likely than nonsmokers to develop diabetes. If you have diabetes, smoking is even worse because you’re:

  • More likely to develop problems such as nerve damage and kidney disease
  • Three times more likely than nonsmokers to die prematurely of heart disease or stroke
  • More likely to raise your blood sugar level — making it harder to control your diabetes

Get help to quit smoking

Learn how to deal with urges and get resources to kick the habit.

Managing stress

Stress affects people in different ways. It can:

  • Impact emotional well-being.
  • Cause various aches and pains, from headaches to stomach aches.
  • Diminish energy levels.
  • Interrupt sleep.
  • Trigger various unhealthy responses, including overeating, drinking too much alcohol, smoking and procrastinating.

We can't get rid of stress, but we can deal with it in a healthy way. Find out more about stress management.

Learn how to find a support system.

Download: 7 Tips to Care for Your Heart (PDF)

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Living with Type 2 diabetes?

Get monthly science-based diabetes and heart-healthy tips in your inbox. Know Diabetes by Heart raises awareness that living with Type 2 diabetes increases risk for heart disease and stroke – and that people should talk with their doctor at their next appointment about ways to reduce risk.