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Lifestyle Lessons: 9 Tips For Managing Type 2 Diabetes

Medically reviewed on Mar 27, 2017 by L. Anderson, PharmD.

Type 2 Diabetes: America's Expanding Epidemic

Diabetes is a common and chronic condition marked by high levels of sugar in the blood. Diabetes is problematic because it prevents your body from properly using the energy from the food you eat.

Type 2 diabetes is far more common than Type 1 diabetes and makes up 90% or more of all cases of diabetes. In type 2 diabetes your body does not make or use insulin well due to "insulin resistance".

The type 2 form usually occurs in adulthood, although more cases are now occurring in children. In adults, type 2 diabetes is increasing in incidence due to the growing number of older Americans, increasing obesity, and lack of exercise.

Symptoms of Diabetes: What To Expect?

The symptoms of type 2 diabetes often come on gradually and can be quite vague at first. The most common symptoms are a constant thirst, urinating frequently, tiredness and weight loss.

The reason why you make a lot of urine and become thirsty is because glucose leaks into your urine, which pulls out extra water through the kidneys. Some people also develop blurred vision and frequent infections, such as recurring thrush.

Long Term Effects of Poorly Managed Type 2 Diabetes

If your blood glucose levels are higher than normal over a long period of time it can gradually damage your blood vessels, which can lead to multiple complications.

Hardening of the arteries can cause problems like a heart attack, angina, stroke and poor circulation. Kidney damage may lead to kidney failure. Eye problems can affect vision. And nerve damage (diabetic neuropathy) and poor circulation can contribute to foot problems, dental problems and impotence.

It's important to have regular check-ups with your doctor, keep your blood sugar in line, and get regular exercise to help prevent these possibly serious issues.

How To Stay Healthy & Lower Blood Glucose?

The goal of treating type 2 diabetes is to keep your blood glucose levels in a normal range. This also helps to reduce the risk of developing complications.

A special blood test called HbA1C (glycated hemoglobin A1C test) is used to check on blood glucose levels. This test gives a good indication of your average blood glucose level over the last few months. You and your doctor will decide on a target blood glucose level.

You Are What You Eat...

If you have diabetes you need to know how foods affect your blood sugar levels. The type of food you eat, the portion size, and the combinations are all important.

Make a diabetes meal plan with help from your health team. Choose foods that are low in fat, sugar and salt and high in fiber with plenty of fruit and vegetables. Drink water instead of sugary juice and soft drinks.

Portion size matters – when eating a meal fill half of your plate with fruit and vegetables, one quarter with lean protein such as bean or chicken (no skin) and one quarter with a whole grain such as brown rice or pasta. Avoid unhealthy snacking so you are hungry for nutritious food at meal time. Plan your exercise in conjunction with your healthcare provider in relation to when you eat for optimal effects.

Purge Those Pounds

Don’t be unrealistic in your goal setting when it comes to losing weight. Take small steps to set realistic goals to met your target. Consider working with a dietician to help with your meal planning and to help get your blood sugar levels on a daily even keel. Eating well and moving more will help reduce the pounds.

And don't forget to reward yourself every once in a while for a job well done!

Active Time Well Spent

Try to set a goal of being active most days of the week – brisk walking for 30 minutes at least 5 times a week is advised.

Take it easy at first, try 10 minute walks three times a day and gradually increase time and distance. It's just as beneficial to exercise in smaller amounts of time several times per day; it all does not have to be done at one session.

Swimming, cycling and running are great aerobic exercises, too. Check with your doctor before you start any exercise program, especially if you've not been active lately.

Relax and De-stress

Take time for yourself! It is common to feel overwhelmed, sad or angry when you are living with diabetes. These emotions can raise your blood sugar levels. Learn ways to lower your stress.

Try deep breathing, gardening, take a walk, listening to music or working on a hobby. Ask for help if you are feeling down – a family member, friend or counsellor. Join a diabetes support group. Volunteer your time to help others who may need your good knowledge about diabetes.

The Right Dose At The Right Time

There are many classes of type 2 diabetes medicines available to lower blood sugar levels. It is also fairly common to need a combination of medicines. Effectiveness depends on the timing and dose size.

Medicines such as glipizide (Glucotrol), glyburide (Diabeta, Glynase) and repaglinide (Prandin) work by helping the pancreas produce more insulin. It's important that these tablets are taken at the right time in relation to a meal.

Another medicine called metformin (Glucophage) works by helping insulin to work better on the body’s cells and should always be taken with food. This is often the first medication a patient receives in their regimen. Acarbose (Precose) works by slowing down the absorption of glucose and is usually taken with the first bite of a meal.

Limit Alcohol Intake and Quit Smoking

Stopping smoking will probably add years to your life if you have type 2 diabetes; but you need to stop now. Smoking will increase your risk of vascular disease and dangerously raise your risk for a heart attack. Smoking is a high risk factor for other complications, too. Ask for help if you have trouble giving up. Smoking cessation agents combined with group therapy may help you to stop.

If you choose to drink, do so in moderation and always with a meal. The recommended limit of alcohol in patients with type 2 diabetes is one drink per day for women, two drinks per day for men age 65 or younger, and one drink a day for men over 65.

If you have an alcoholic drink, be sure to check your blood sugar before you go to bed, as alcohol can affect the swings in your glucose. Remember, alcohol is also empty calories, possibly adding weight to the scale. Instead, when at a party try a spritzer made with lime juice, soda water, and a twist.

Don't Put It Off: Add Years to Your Life

Your doctor and other health care providers can look for diabetes related complications and check that you are maintaining good control of your diabetes. In fact, a 2016 study showed that intensive diabetes control can prolong your life by adding an extra 8 years to your life.

Be sure to get your blood pressure and cholesterol level checked regularly. Make sure you have an annual foot check, dental check and eye exam. Keep up with your immunizations – high blood sugar can weaken your immune system so you should get a yearly flu shot and should consider a hepatitis B vaccine and pneumonia vaccine, too. Discuss all of these items with your trusted doctor.

Pay Extra Attention to Your Feet...

If you have diabetes, you're at greater risk of developing problems with your feet, including foot ulcers and infections from minor cuts and grazes. This is because of poor blood circulation in the feet, and blood glucose can damage the nerves.

Keep your nails short and your feet clean. Wear properly fitted shoes. Check your feet every day for blisters, cuts, sores, redness and swelling and see your doctor if you have sore feet or a foot problem that isn’t healing. Good attention to foot care can help to prevent serious infections and even a toe, foot, or leg amputation.

... and Your Teeth

Poor circulation can have a similar vascular effect on gums in your mouth, weakening them and making them more prone to infection.

Saliva is likely to contain higher than normal levels of glucose which will encourage the growth of gum disease-causing bacteria. Good oral hygiene including brushing and flossing your teeth twice a day is essential.

Finished: Lifestyle Lessons - 9 Tips For Managing Type 2 Diabetes

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  • American Diabetes Association. Diabetes Basics. Facts About Type 2. Accessed March 27, 2017 at
  • Cleveland Clinic. Diabetes: Frequently Asked Questions. Accessed March 27, 2017 at
  • National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). Your Guide to Diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2. Accessed March 27, 2017 at