A diabetes lifestyle is a demanding one, in which the majority of management is self-care. The key to managing your diabetes involves testing your blood sugar; taking diabetes medications, insulin or both; eating a healthy, balanced diet; exercising; caring for your feet; stopping smoking; and keeping your diabetes appointments with your provider. If you don’t do these things, you’re at great risk of developing diabetes complications.
Research has proven that complications are less likely to occur if you keep your blood glucose as near to normal as possible, yet, as diabetes educators, we hear many reasons why our clients don’t make simple changes to better their own health. Here are a few.
- “I’m too young to have diabetes.” This is a form of denial. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 13,000 young people are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in the United States each year. The number of children and adolescents diagnosed with type 2 diabetes is growing at an alarming rate. New diagnoses for type 2 diabetes in children accounts for up to half of all diabetes diagnoses in children and adolescents.
- “I don’t have enough time.” Whether you work full-time or stay at home, it’s important to take time to improve your way of life. Managing your blood sugar doesn’t require you to make drastic changes. Break tasks down into smaller, doable actions. For example, take a 10-minute walk twice a day instead of walking for 20 minutes at one time. There are, however, things you must make time for. To stay healthy, you must test your blood sugar and take your diabetes medications.
- “I feel fine. Maybe high blood sugar is normal for me.” High blood sugar is never normal. Normal blood sugar for people who don’t have diabetes is 70 to 100 mg/dL (3.9 to 5.6 mmol/L). Diabetes is an insidious disease, often called a silent killer. You may feel fine, but damage is being done to your entire body, from your hearing and vision, to sexual function, to mental health and sleep.
Other comments we hear include everything from “I don’t like vegetables” to “Lifestyle changes won’t work, so just give me diabetes pills.”
But no change is too small to ward off type 2 diabetes or to delay further progression of diabetes! A large, national study conducted at 27 sites around the U.S. found that small lifestyle changes are far more successful at warding off diabetes or delaying further progression of the disease than are medications. The Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) found that participants who lost a modest amount of weight through dietary changes and increased physical activity greatly reduced their chances of developing diabetes or developing further complications of diabetes.
Get started today and set a specific goal. Choose a lifestyle change that you’re willing to work on. Don’t change behaviors that will make your health care team happy- change for you. Ask yourself what you’d like to change and how you’re going to do it, for how long, and how many days of the week. Start with one specific, attainable goal, for example, “I will walk 10 to 15 minutes three days a week for one month.”
Lifestyle changes take patience, but, with persistence, you can make them happen.
Nancy Klobassa Davidson, R.N., and Peggy Moreland, R.N.