Lifestyle Changes for Diabetes: 6 Habits that Help Lower Blood Sugar

These tweaks give your pancreas a helping hand.

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Medication and blood glucose meters play important roles in type 2 diabetes management, but don’t turn a blind eye to your everyday habits. In fact, the right lifestyle changes could be enough to keep blood sugar levels in a healthy range, without medication. Here’s what lifestyle changes endocrinologists and other health experts recommend to manage type 2 diabetes.

  1. Clean up your diet. Limit sugar, white flour and other refined grains, and starchy vegetables, which can spike blood glucose levels. Instead, choose non-starchy vegetables and whole grains as much as possible.

  2. Get moving.  In addition to helping manage weight, exercise improves the body’s ability to use up glucose for energy, which reduces the excess sugar in the bloodstream, according to Joan Pagano, an exercise physiologist in New York City. The official recommendation is 150 minutes of exercise a week. Learn more about exercising with diabetes here.

  3. Lose weight. Excess weight can make diabetes symptoms worse, and losing just 5 to 7 percent of your body weight can help regulate blood sugar levels and improve insulin resistance.

  4. Make sleep a priority. “If you’re not sleeping well, during the day you feel sluggish, you’re tired, and then you get more cravings,” says Sandra Arévalo, RDN, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Diabetes Educators. Let’s be honest: Few of us opt to munch on broccoli when we’re falling asleep at their desk; we’re usually more drawn to the quick, carby foods like chips or sweets. “The more carbohydrates you eat, the higher your numbers are, so it’s a vicious cycle,” says Arévalo.

  5. Reduce stress. Both emotional and physical stress produce hormones that can worsen insulin resistance. To control blood sugars, cut out unnecessary sources of stress in your life, prioritize what’s important to you, and build stress-relieving habits into your day. (Here are ways to reduce stress besides meditation.)

  6. Get support. Lean on your friends and family to help you make these important lifestyle changes. You can even enlist the help of professionals, such as dietitians and diabetes educators, to guide your progress.