Healthy Habits Make an Impact

Medically Reviewed by Michael Dansinger, MD on February 07, 2021

When you live with diabetes, what you eat and how much you exercise make a big difference to your health. So get smart about the foods you choose and the way you move. You'll not only get your blood sugar under control, you'll cut your chance of having a heart attack and stroke, too.

Count your carbohydrates. They affect your blood sugar more than protein and fats. Track the number of carb grams you eat throughout the day to help keep your blood sugar levels steady. Your doctor or a registered dietitian can coach you on how to do it.

Make healthy meal choices. A good rule of thumb is to fill half your dinner plate with nonstarchy vegetables like spinach, carrots, lettuce, or tomatoes. Split the other half between nutritious whole grains or starches (think brown rice or sweet potatoes) and lean protein like skinless chicken. Eat healthy fats, like avocado or nuts, in small amounts. Limit how much salt you eat, too.

Snack smarter. Sodas and packaged foods are usually high in calories, salt, and added sugar, but low in vitamins and minerals. If you get hungry between meals, eat something healthy like carrots or grapes.

Measure your meals and snacks.  Keep an eye on your food portions to manage your blood sugar. Use measuring cups and a food scale at home. Check serving sizes listed on the "Nutrition Facts" labels.

There are also easy ways to get a picture in your mind of a serving size. For instance, one serving of meat is about the size of your palm. A cup of salad or a casserole is a big as your fist.

Get moving. Exercise that makes your heart pump, like brisk walking, dancing, and swimming, helps your body use insulin better. You can start slow with 5-10 minutes, then work up to 30 or more minutes a day, at least 5 days a week. (If you're trying to lose weight, aim for your workouts to last around 60 minutes.) Your activities should be at least "moderately intense," which means that you're able to talk, but not sing, while you do it.

Build your strength. Resistance (strength) training builds muscle and keeps your bones healthy. It also helps keep your blood sugar in check. Twice a week, use hand weights or elastic bands at your gym or at home. Exercises like pushups and squats, which use your own body weight to build strength, are also good choices.

Make exercise fun. You're more likely to stay active if you find a workout you enjoy. Switch between a few activities to keep from getting bored with just one. That lets you work different muscles and lowers your odds of an injury. For more motivation, ask a friend to be your workout buddy.

Show Sources


American Diabetes Association: "Healthy Eating," "Exercise and Type 1 Diabetes," "Staying Motivated," "Create Your Plate," "Fitness -- Types of Activity."

National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse: "Eating and Diabetes," "What I Need to Know About Physical Activity and Diabetes," "What I Need to Know About Carbohydrate Counting and Diabetes."

Joslin Diabetes Center: "Exercises to Avoid When You Have Diabetes."

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