Staying healthy with diabetes

Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes are serious diseases, and can lead to the same complications. But you can do many things to stay well. Eating healthily, increasing your physical activity and learning as much as possible about diabetes are important first steps. Seeking medical advice and having regular blood sugar checks and tests for the complications of diabetes are all part of a good diabetes management as well.


  • Eat healthily

  • Get physical exercise

  • Lose weight

  • Seek medical advice

  • Reduce stress

  • Stop smoking

A healthy lifestyle plays a huge role in staying healthy with diabetes. Several elements contribute to a healthy lifestyle:
A balanced diet: Eating healthily helps to control blood sugar levels, maintain body weight, control high cholesterol, reduce high blood pressure, and prevent heart disease.
The so-called "diabetic diet" is not in fact a diet, but rather a healthy eating plan ideal for all the family.
Physical exercise: Exercise helps improve fitness, burn calories and thus reduce body fat and control your weight. For people with diabetes, exercise lowers blood sugar. Like insulin, it helps your body use its blood sugar efficiently.
Losing weight: Losing weight will help your body use insulin better.
Seeking medical advice: Your doctor can advise what treatment is more appropriate for your condition and how you can be better in control of your life.
Reducing stress: Although the exact relationship bewteen stress and the risk of diabetes is still unclear, it seems that stress can be a cause of bad use of insulin by the body.
Stopping smoking: Stopping smoking is of major benefit in the prevention of major diabetes complications such as coronary heart disease, stroke and peripheral vascular disease.
Eat healthily
For most people, a healthy diet consists of three key nutritional elements:

  • 40 to 60% of calories from carbohydrates

  • 20% from protein

  • 30% or less from fat

Each of these elements, as well as vitamins and minerals, are essential for the maintenance, growth and development of the body. But it is vital that you always keep a good balance between these different food types.
Carbohydrates are the main source of energy for the body. They are found in fruit, vegetables, beans, dairy foods and starchy foods, which include cereal products, potatoes, cooked dried beans, pasta, rice and bread (starchy foods are higher in calories than fruit and vegetables).  Try fruit juices or dried fruit and plenty of fresh vegetables
Fats (or lipids) are a concentrated source of energy and one of their purposes is to store energy. Fats are found in meat, dairy products and vegetable oils. Fats can be further subdivided between saturated and unsaturated fats. Saturated fats are found mainly in animal products, such as butter and cheese. Unsaturated fats are contained in vegetable oils such as margarine and olive oil. Diets containing more unsaturated fats are usually seen as “healthier”, but it is important to control and limit the overall intake of fat. Try to avoid fried foods, mayonnaise-based dishes and high-fat dairy products.
Protein has a wide range of vital functions. Good sources of proteins are poultry, meat, fish, dairy products, eggs, beans, nuts and some vegetables. Choose lean cuts of meat and trim any fat you can see. Take the skin off poultry. Choose non-fat or reduced-fat cheese and yogurt.
Consult your doctor or dietitian to work out a meal plan with you. You need an individualized eating plan. For example, a young athlete with type 1 diabetes will have other nutritional needs than, say, a small woman with type 2 diabetes who needs to lose some weight.
Physical exercise
Activity can be any form of movement that continues for ten minutes or longer, making you mildly warm and quickening your breathing.
Activities like walking, vacuuming and gardening can all count. Regular physical exercise, e.g. aerobic exercises like walking, jogging, swimming or cycling, use a wider range of muscles and may get you fitter faster and can help to reduce excess weight, prevent diabetes and reduce cardiovascular disease risk factors.
However it is not necessary to spend any money or extra time on activity. The recommended amount is 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity each day.
Lose weight
Losing weight is another big part of your diabetes treatment which can be achieved by a healthy eating plan and exercise.
With a healthy meal plan, you eat less calories because you fill up on low fat foods, not fatty foods. Decide with your health care provider how much you should lose. Sometimes, just 5 or 10 kilos (10 or 20 pounds) is enough to bring diabetes under control.
Then decide how much you want to lose per week. Slow weight loss is healthier and easier.
Blood glucose level
People with type 1 diabetes require multiple daily insulin injections for survival. Their daily life includes regular blood monitoring to check the level of sugar in the blood. People with type 2 diabetes may require oral hypoglycaemic drugs to lower blood sugar and some may need insulin injections.
Seek advice
Talk to your doctor about how often you should test your blood glucose level. Write down each result, along with the time and date. You will soon learn how well your treatment plan is working.
Also talk to your doctor or other healthcare providers to check for problems that diabetes can cause. Doing this can prevent complications or find them early, when they can be treated and managed well. There are some tests that you should get on a regular basis. These include:
Have regular checks and tests
The lowering of elevated blood pressure reduces the risk of stroke and coronary heart disease substantially. If lifestyle measures, including sodium restriction, are insufficient then drugs should be prescribed.
The lowering of blood cholesterol level will help reduce the process of atherosclerosis and lower the risks of heart disease.
Have your feet checked, eyes and kidneys tested. Check with your doctor how often you should have them tested.
Reduce stress
Although the exact relationship bewteen stress and the risk of diabetes is still unclear, it seems that stress can be a cause of bad use of insulin by the body.
A social lifeHaving a social life is a necessary part to any healthy lifestyle, yet it is hardly ever mentioned in any guidelines for the control of diabetes. A healthy social life, taking time out to relax with your friends and family is both vital in reducing our stress levels, thus reducing a possible factor to the development of diabetes, and helps people with diabetes to take control of their condition. Having to take extra care of yourself and administer medication does not mean that you cannot have a healthy social life.
Relaxation techniquesRelaxation techniques such as yoga and meditation can also play a role in the prevention of diabetes complications, and of cardiovascular disease in particular.  Stop smokingSmoking and diabetes is a dangerous mixture. Stopping smoking is of major benefit in the prevention of major diabetes complications such as coronary heart disease, stroke and peripheral vascular disease, even in those who have smoked for a very long time.
If you are serious about quitting, your doctor or healthcare team can help. Keep trying; your health is worth it.