As we get older, many of us begin to have health concerns that never troubled us before. Our doctors run a barrage of tests we never knew we needed, and sometimes, these tests reveal unexpected issues. Diabetes is one of those conditions that people often develop in later life, and it’s very important to take steps to properly manage it. While diabetes can come with a host of complications, making some lifestyle changes and sticking with the plan your doctor prescribes can help you live a healthy life.
Before we talk about tips for managing it, let’s talk about blood sugar itself. Sometimes, people can have high blood sugar just because they’ve been under stress, eating poorly, or not exercising regularly. If it’s just an occasional problem, it may not be an indication of poor health. However, consistently high blood sugar can be a symptom of diabetes. The most common type of diabetes is type 2, which develops when the body is unable to properly use and store glucose because it’s not responding to insulin.
When you eat sugar, it’s converted into glucose so that the body can use it for energy, and excess glucose is stored as glycogen. Your brain and body burn carbohydrates, in the form of glucose, for fuel, and your body can also burn fat. Normally, glucose levels are regulated by insulin secreted from the pancreas. With type 2 diabetes, the cells don’t respond normally to insulin, so glucose can’t be stored for energy but instead stays in the blood, creating high blood sugar.
A person with diabetes is likely to have various health problems, including trouble with the heart, kidney, eyes, and blood vessels. Even before a diabetes diagnosis, blood sugar that’s too high can be harmful to a person’s health. If your doctor has told you that you have “pre-diabetes,” it’s time to take charge of your health and be proactive about reducing your blood sugar. This can be done by following some simple steps and changing some habits.
- The first step in controlling blood sugar is controlling what you eat. A diet that’s low in sugar and fat is a good start, but there’s more to it than that. Watching your carbohydrate intake is important because carbs are readily converted into glucose. Blood sugar generally increases after a high-carb meal but eating the right carbs can help you maintain healthy glucose levels. Carbohydrates are ranked by their Glycemic Index (GI) which measures them relative to their effect on blood glucose. Complex carbs have a GI index of 55 or lower, meaning they digest slowly and cause a slower rise in blood sugar. Simple carbs have a GI index closer to 100, which means they break down quickly in the body. Highly processed foods that have been stripped of their natural fiber have a high GI, while foods like whole grains, meats, beans, lentils, legumes, sweet potatoes, some fruits, and non-starchy vegetables have a low GI. Eating carbs with a low GI or strictly limiting your carbs are both good ways to help control blood sugar. Increasing your intake of soluble fiber and restricting your calorie intake are also effective methods.
- Staying active benefits your health in many ways. When you regularly engage in aerobic activities like swimming, bicycling, or walking, you’ll be better able to control your glucose level, maintain a healthy weight, and remain strong. Aim for 30 minutes of exercise at least five days a week, splitting this into 10 minute segments if you need to. Excess weight is linked to diabetes and high blood pressure; losing weight can dramatically improve your health. What’s more, exercise increases insulin sensitivity, making it easier to manage blood glucose.
- Improving your sleep can improve your blood sugar levels. Sleep is an important aspect of a healthy lifestyle. When you get sufficient sleep, you’ll lower your stress levels, strengthen your immune system, and decrease your blood pressure, as well as improving your alertness, mood regulation, and memory consolidation. Slow wave sleep (SWS) is particularly restorative because it has an impact on hormonal changes. Because these hormones affect glucose regulation, people who do not get enough SWS have decreased insulin sensitivity without additional insulin release to compensate for it. Therefore, it’s thought that low sleep quality can contribute to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. The recommendation for adults is seven to nine hours of sleep, though the right amount for you may be outside of this range. If you’re getting enough sleep, you probably won’t need an alarm clock or have trouble getting out of bed. You’re likely to wake up refreshed in the morning, and you won’t fall asleep when you sit down or get drowsy when driving.
- Stay on top of your glucose levels. Your doctor can explain how and when to check your blood glucose level. If you’re having trouble controlling your blood sugar, you’ll probably need to check regularly at home, and every few months at the doctor’s office. In addition to watching for high blood sugar, you’ll need to check for low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), especially if you’re taking diabetes medication. Signs of hypoglycemia include confusion, dizziness, and sweating, and if you or a loved one experience these symptoms, it’s important to take action. Eat 10-20 grams of sugar or carbs, retest blood glucose after 15 minutes, and if the levels don’t get better, seek medical attention.
- Keep up with your medical care. Because diabetes is associated with a host of complications, it’s important to be vigilant about your healthcare. Have your blood pressure and cholesterol levels checked regularly and make sure to get vaccines and vision and hearing tests as directed by your doctor. Examine your feet every day to make sure there are no cuts or signs of infection, keep your feet clean, use lotion to prevent dryness, and wear comfortable shoes. Visit your dentist regularly, too, because diabetes is connected with gum disease and dental problems.
- Never miss your medication. If you’re having trouble remembering to fill your prescriptions or take your medication, reach out to someone who can help you manage this important aspect of your care.
At Parkwood Heights, we offer enriched living services to help residents manage their care, as part of our commitment to prioritizing the health and happiness of our residents. A lovely community in which to spend your retirement living your best life, Parkwood Heights is located just minutes from Victor, Fairport, Farmington, and Canandaigua. Our picturesque, 122-acre senior living campus affords many opportunities to enjoy your time with friends and family, while enjoying our scenic setting. Call (315) 986-9100 to learn more about all that we have to offer or check out our website and reach out if you have any questions.