Living well with type 2 diabetes means making certain precautions part of your routine, says Amy Campbell, MS, RD, CDE, manager of clinical education programs at Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston. She offers this advice.
Make a date with a dietitian. "It's a myth that there's a one-size-fits-all diabetes diet," Campbell says. A dietitian can help you develop an eating plan that's right for your age, weight, activity level, and medications, and can also set daily calorie and carbohydrate targets. You'll probably meet several times at first; after that, once a year.
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."
Check your feet daily. High blood sugar levels can damage nerves in your feet, leaving you unable to feel cuts, blisters, and other injuries. High blood sugar also increases your risk of infection, allowing a simple blister to develop into a grave problem in a matter of days. Amputation is a real danger, Campbell says. Can't reach your feet? Ask a family member or friend to give them a daily once-over, or use a mirror. Call your doctor immediately if you spot redness, cuts, blisters, or swelling.
Keep moving. People with type 2 diabetes are often insulin resistant, meaning their bodies don't use insulin properly and they need extra insulin to allow their cells to take in sugar from their blood. Exercise appears to increase insulin sensitivity, improving glucose uptake to your body's cells.
Aim to be active 30 minutes a day, at least five days a week. Any activity that raises your heart rate enough to make it slightly difficult to talk (brisk walking, taking the stairs, vacuuming vigorously) counts toward your daily total. The benefits are real: Shed just 5% to 10% of your body weight to dramatically improve glucose control, Campbell says.
See clearly. Make an annual appointment for a dilated-eye exam with an ophthalmologist or an optometrist experienced in treating people with diabetes. Dilation allows the doctor to look for diseases such as retinopathy, one of the most common complications of diabetes. "'It used to spell blindness for people, but we now have laser surgery and other ways to prevent it," Campbell says.
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