Working closely with your doctor, you can help manage your diabetes by focusing on six key changes in your daily life.
1. Eat healthy. Eating well is crucial when you have diabetes, because what you eat affects your blood sugar. No foods are strictly off-limits. Focus on eating only as much as your body needs. Eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Choose nonfat dairy and lean meats. Limit foods that are high in sugar and fat. Remember that carbohydrates turn into sugar, so watch your carb intake. Try to keep it about the same from meal to meal. This is even more important if you take insulin or drugs to control your blood sugars.
Sometimes, living with diabetes can seem like a full-time job -- trying to keep up with everything you need to do for proper diabetes care.
"Diabetes is a very time-consuming disease to manage well," says Karmeen Kulkarni, MS, RD, CDE, and former president of health care and education for the American Diabetes Association. "The medication, the food, the physical activity -- you add life in general to that whole picture and it ends up being quite challenging."
2. Exercise. If you're not moving, start. You don't have to join a gym and do cross-training. Just walk or do active video games. Having an active lifestyle helps you control your diabetes by bringing down your blood sugar. It also lowers your chances of getting heart disease. It can help you lose extra pounds and ease stress. Your goal should be 30 minutes of activity that makes you sweat and breathe a little harder most days of the week.
3. Get checkups. If you're not getting regular checkups, now's the time to start. See your doctor at least twice a year. Diabetes raises your risk of heart disease. So learn your numbers: cholesterol, blood pressure, and A1c (average blood sugar over 3 months). Get a full eye exam every year. Visit a foot doctor to check for problems like foot ulcers and nerve damage.
4. Manage stress. When you're stressed, your blood sugar levels go up. And when you're anxious, you may not manage your diabetes well. You may forget to exercise, eat right, or take your prescribed drugs. Find ways to relieve stress -- through deep breathing, yoga, or hobbies that relax you.
6. Watch your alcohol. Avoiding excess alcohol may make it easier to control your blood sugar, so if you choose to drink, don't overdo it. The American Diabetes Association advises that women who drink alcohol have no more than one drink a day and men who drink have no more than two. Drinking alcohol can make your blood sugar go too high or too low. Check your blood sugar before you drink, and take steps to avoid low blood sugars. If you use insulin or take drugs for your diabetes, eat when you're drinking. Some drinks -- like wine coolers -- may be higher in carbs, so take this into account when counting carbs.