Can a healthy lifestyle really help Type 2 diabetics?
As always, the question requires some nuance.
If your diabetes is advanced and the symptoms are acute, prescribed medication may be required.
However, for many people, if there was ever a miracle way for diabetics to improve quality of life – diet and exercise is it!
Obesity and inactivity are two of the greatest risk factors for Type 2 diabetes. Therefore, in most cases, people with prediabetes or early-stage Type 2 can manage those risks simply by making lifestyle modifications that include weight loss and increased physical activity.
Adopting normal, healthy lifestyle habits, including diet changes and exercise may be all you need to improve insulin sensitivity and glycemic control!
In general, a balanced, nutritious diet can help you lose weight and manage or reverse your Type 2 symptoms.
What makes up such a diet?
- Healthy fats – like those found in nuts or avocados
- Whole fruits and vegetables – fresh or frozen
- Whole grains – such as whole-wheat bread or pasta, and brown rice
- Lean proteins – such as fish, poultry, low-fat dairy, soy, and beans
Avoid the consumption of unhealthy, high-calorie foods – foods high in saturated fats like red meat, butter, margarine, or fried foods; and unhealthy, refined carbohydrates like white bread, sugary drinks, pastries, alcohol, and candy.
It bears mentioning that there is not a generic, one-size-fits-all diet for individuals with diabetes. Meal planning should be individualized. It’s best to consult with a physician or dietitian with Medical Nutrition Therapy (MNT) experience and collaboratively develop an individualized eating plan.
Exercise for Diabetes Control
Physical activity is another important component for the treatment of Type 2 diabetes. During exercise, your muscles use more glucose for energy, lowering your blood sugar level. Exercise lowers insulin resistance, so your body uses insulin more efficiently. And it also boosts cardiovascular health, helping people avoid the long-term Type 2 complications associated with heart problems, including blocked blood vessels and arteries, heart attacks and strokes.
Of course, there are also all the traditional benefits of exercise: weight loss, increased strength and stamina, more energy, improved mood, lower stress, and better sleep.
The American Diabetes Association recommends that children and adolescents with Type 2 diabetes or prediabetes should engage in 60 minutes per day or more of moderate or vigorous aerobic activity every day, with muscle-strengthening activities at least three days per week.
Adults are recommended to perform aerobic and resistance exercises for around 30 minutes per day. Flexibility training should be done, as well. Additionally, sedentary behavior should be avoided, and prolonged sitting should be interrupted after 30 minutes to help regulate blood sugar levels.
What kinds of exercises are good for Diabetes?
There are three main types of exercise:
- Aerobic – to improve heart health and reduce cardiovascular mortality. Aerobic exercises include walking, jogging, dancing, swimming, biking, and playing sports.
- Strength training – to improve bone health and muscle strength (since muscles use the most glucose). Strength training includes resistance workouts and weightlifting.
- Flexibility and balance training – to improve how your muscles and joints work. These workouts include stretching, yoga, tai chi and qigong.
There are a few important rules to follow when it comes to exercise in general, and for diabetics in particular:
- It’s good to create an exercise routine and stick to it as much as possible, with set days and times for different types of training.
- Start small and set realistic goals. This is especially true for those who have not worked out recently and are essentially starting from scratch.
- Consult a doctor and/or fitness instructor – especially if there are added concerns or existing complications related to diabetes.
There’s one more rule that applies equally for diet and exercise: ENJOY YOURSELF!
Yes, it can be hard to force yourself to eat foods you don’t like. And yes, it can take extreme willpower to drag yourself through a workout you hate. But it’s all much easier if you’re having fun!
So, find foods that you love to eat which are healthy as well. Participate in physical activities that you find so enjoyable, the time just flies by. Perhaps join a group or invite friends along; being part of a group or team may make it easier for all of you, and if you ever need motivation, you’ll have the company of other people with the same goals as you.
Figure out what works for you in terms of diet and exercise and apply it.
You can do it!
And you’ll amaze yourself with the results.