Three tools help manage diabetes: diet, exercise and medication. Some people can do it with just diet and exercise, but most diabetics eventually need medication in addition.
In a nutshell, here’s what the tools do:
The food you eat determines how much glucose your body must deal with.
Physical activity is the magic bullet because It naturally and quickly removes glucose from the blood.
Medication helps the body function closer to normal, but it can’t control blood glucose levels on its own.
The tools work together and a change in one means a change in another. We’re all different and we need to figure out what works for us. It’s a big reason diabetes is so challenging.
What about Food?
Foods aren’t equal. High carbohydrate foods like table sugar raise the blood glucose level a lot. Meats, fish, eggs and many vegetables raise it minimally, if at all. Eating intelligently is critical to managing diabetes.
You’re more likely to succeed if you eat foods you enjoy. Nothing is forbidden, but diabetics need to recognize the carb content of what they eat. Once you know this, there are lots of ways to manage food:
Eat less of the high carb and more of the low carb.
Bake with less sugar (you won’t miss it).
Use sugar substitutes.
Cook with spices, which generally have no carbohydrate.
Our tastes are different. The challenge is to create a personal strategy with foods that are nourishing, taste good and don’t drive blood glucose levels through the roof.
The Magic Bullet
Exercise recommendations can be daunting. A typical program recommends 30-60 minutes of exercise per day, a combination of aerobic and resistance training 3-4 days a week, exercising all major muscle groups, exercising at least every other day while working up to five days a week, walking 10,000 steps a day…and more.
Runners and gym rats may not have a problem with this, but others are intimidated and troubled to think they’re doomed if they don’t comply.
If a person with diabetes follows the guidelines, their blood glucose management will improve – no question about it. But what about those who can’t?
“Exercise” doesn’t necessarily mean sweating, sore muscles and exhaustion. It can. but it’s helpful to think of it as “anything that makes your skeleton move.” This includes vacuuming, walking to the store and doing anything that isn’t sedentary.
The more active you are, the more muscle you’ll build. Muscle is a powerful tool for diabetics. It naturally pulls glucose from the bloodstream without medication and either burns it or stores it for future use. The blood glucose level (BGL) will drop immediately and it will be easier to manage for about two days, even if you’re relatively inactive.
“More is better.” The more muscle you have and the more you move the better your BGL will be. It’s the magic bullet for diabetics.
If you keep it up, you’ll get stronger and become even more active. The payoff is that your blood sugars will be easier to manage.
Physical activity is free and effective. It’s a magic bullet for diabetics.
Type 1 diabetics no longer produce insulin, so insulin is the necessary med. Digestion destroys it, so insulin is delivered by injection or a port inserted under the skin.
Type 2 cripples the ability to produce insulin so the pancreas can’t control blood glucose levels on its own. Some diabetics manage with only diet and exercise, but the condition is progressive most eventually need meds.
Over 50 medications do various things. They promote insulin production, reduce insulin resistance, induce muscle to absorb glucose and others. A health care professional is needed to find the best option.
Medication’s effectiveness depends on food intake and physical activity. Even with medications If you eat lots of carbs and veg out, you’ll have a higher BGL than if you ate smarter and went for a walk. It’s easy to blame doctors for not prescribing the right medication, but an erratic lifestyle gives them a moving target they can’t hit.