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A woman in workout clothes sits on the floor in a gym and measures her blood sugar levels with a phone and diabetes sensor on her arm.
A woman in workout clothes sits on the floor in a gym and measures her blood sugar levels with a phone and diabetes sensor on her arm.

Tips for Living With Diabetes

A Physician’s Advice On Managing the Disease

A diabetes diagnosis can be overwhelming or intimidating, but it does not need to be.

"There are millions of people in the U.S. living with diabetes today," explains Northwestern Medicine Endocrinologist Wendell Malalis, MD. "With modern health care, we have many tools for diabetes management."

Know Your Numbers

Monitoring your blood sugar is very important to living with diabetes. If your levels are too low, it can impact your ability to think and function. If they are too high, it can damage your body over time. So, knowing your levels is key to your health:

The two tests you should know are:

  • A blood glucose test, which tells you your blood sugar levels at that moment. These typically involve poking your fingertip and testing your blood in a blood glucose meter.
  • An A1C test, which reads your average blood sugar levels over the last three months. This test often helps diagnose prediabetes as well as diabetes. The A1C test also helps you and your care team manage your diabetes by getting a broader picture of your health.

There is also continuous glucose monitoring (CGM), which involves a sensor inserted under your skin that automatically measures blood sugar throughout the day and night. With CGM, many patients are comforted in knowing that if they do have low glucose, they will be woken up and can then address it.

"CGM can help you see your health on a more regular basis and identify trends," explains Northwestern Medicine Endocrinologist Emily D. Szmuilowicz, MD, MS. "Then, you can relate those to meal choices, physical activity and other lifestyle changes in real time. It is really encouraging and empowering to be able to see these differences every day."

 Talk to your care team about your testing regimen and what range of blood sugar levels is best for you. Staying within your targeted range can help you improve energy levels and your mood.

Eat Healthy

Two of the greatest tools you have for managing your diabetes are diet and exercise. Together, they can help you control your blood sugar and maintain a consistent level of energy.

There is no single diet that works for everyone with diabetes. However, some general tips to keep in mind are:

  • Do not skip meals. While a new diet can feel restrictive, proper and consistent nutrition is key to your health.
  • Incorporate different foods into your diet. Make meals with whole grains, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats and lean meats or meat substitutes. A cookbook tailored to people with diabetes can help you get recipe ideas.
  • Count your carbs. When you have diabetes, your body doesn't digest carbs properly, and too many carbs can increase your blood sugar levels. Tracking your carb consumption can help you match your medicine and activity to what you eat.
  • Practice moderation. Space your meals evenly throughout the day and try not to eat too much food.

Stay Active

Regular exercise helps control blood sugar levels and makes your body more sensitive to insulin, which can help you manage diabetes. Additionally, physical activity helps to relieve stress, keep your joints healthy and lower risk for heart disease and stroke.

Some types of exercise you can try are:

  • Aerobic activities, such as walking, biking and swimming
  • Consistent daily activities, such as taking the stairs instead of the escalator or elevator
  • Strength training
  • Yoga and stretching

If you are having trouble exercising regularly, start small and set a goal each day or each week. You can slowly work your way up from there. Having a fitness partner can help you stay motivated and hold you accountable.

Prioritize Yourself

Dr. Malalis says no matter your diabetes diagnosis, a long, healthy life is possible, and monitoring and managing your health on a regular basis is vital to that.  

"Diabetes is a chronic condition," he explains. "Good lifestyle habits are just as important as medication when it comes to managing it."