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If you have diabetes, it may sometimes seem like your whole life is all about managing your numbers, tracking what you eat, and staying on top of your overall health. It can feel overwhelming. The good news: There are things you can do to make daily diabetes maintenance easier, says Marlisa Brown, RDN. She’s a spokesperson for the Association of Diabetes Care & Education Specialists.
Try these six tips from Brown and other experts to take the pressure off of living with diabetes and improve your well-being.
1. Say “yes” to offers of help.
Studies show that people can manage their diabetes better when they have support from loved ones. A strong support group can help you make positive changes. They can help you cook a healthy meal, for example. Or they can encourage you to exercise by offering to go with you on a walk or bike ride. Friends and family can remind you to take your medications and schedule doctor appointments. They can also assist you when you check your blood glucose levels.
On the other hand, it’s also important to stay away from people who aren’t supportive, adds Brown. This might mean a relative who still brings desserts to your house when you’ve asked them not to, or one who downplays your diabetes. In those cases, it might help to bring the person with you to a doctor’s appointment or a session with your dietitian, says Brown. “Then they have a chance to understand the treatment plan.”
2. Take baby steps with exercise.
When it comes to exercise, it’s key to remember that everyone is at a different level. One good rule of thumb: If your fitness level is low, start slow. “Some people get out of breath when they walk from the bedroom to the bathroom,” says Brown. “In those cases, I have them start by walking for two minutes, four times a day, then move up from there.”
Over time, you can build up until you can walk for at least 30 minutes most days of the week. Once you’ve reached that point, you can add in light hand weights, says Sheri Colberg-Ochs, PhD. She's a professor emerita of exercise science at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA. (Don’t own hand weights? Full water bottles work just as well.) Or add in fast intervals, such as picking up the pace for 30 to 60 seconds at a time, says Colberg-Ochs.
While you can do your workout all at once, it’s also fine to break it into three smaller sessions like a 10-minute walk after each meal. People with type 2 diabetes who did that saw their blood sugar levels drop about 12 percent, compared to those who took a longer 30-minute walk at another time. These study findings were published in the medical journal Diabetologia.1
With the SilverSneakers® fitness program benefit, Aetna D-SNP members have access to more than 16,000 participating SilverSneakers locations nationwide, plus online videos for yoga, strength training, and more. Check your eligibility and learn more at SilverSneakers.com/GetStarted.
3. Practice self-care.
“I tell all my patients with diabetes that wellness and prevention begin as soon as their feet hit the floor in the morning,” says Marie Ruggles, MS, RD, CN, CDE. She’s a clinical nutritionist and certified diabetes educator in Long Island, N.Y. “It’s so important that you view everything you do to stay healthy as an act of self-love.”
With that in mind, it helps to throw a bit of pampering into the mix. Ruggles suggests that all her patients massage their feet with essential oils in the evening. “It helps increase circulation, especially if they have diabetic neuropathy,” she explains. “But some people love it so much they rarely miss a night. It boosts their confidence that they’re doing everything they can to keep their body healthy, including their feet. And it feels good in the process.”
4. Love what you eat.
If you have type 2 diabetes, Medicare may pay for three hours of dietary counseling your first year, and two hours every year afterward, says Brown. But very few patients with diabetes on Medicare take advantage of it: Only about 100,000 Medicare members received nutrition counseling in 2017, for example.2
“I find that patients have the most success when they focus on what they like to eat. If it’s pasta, for example, we don’t take it away from them. Instead, we have them eat a smaller amount mixed with spaghetti squash, which has a similar taste,” Brown explains. “Or if they love rice, then we mix in cauliflower rice for a similar flavor. We can always find solutions so people can eat the foods they love and not feel deprived.”
5. Get some digital assistance.
There are a bunch of high-tech tools that can help you manage your diabetes, and they’re often covered by insurance. “These are easy enough for anyone to use. They can be really helpful for keeping your blood glucose levels in check, which can be harder to manage as you get older,” says Gary Scheiner. He’s a certified diabetes care and education specialist. “They can’t take the place of your medical team, but they can be helpful between appointments.” These digital tools include:
Aetna® D-SNP members can get help tracking and understanding their blood glucose levels from their care team. Learn more at AetnaMedicare.com.
6. Lean on your care team.
If you have diabetes, you’ll need more than just regular wellness check-ins with your doctor. Fortunately, there is a whole team of medical providers who can help you manage the disease. They include:
Need help managing your diabetes? If you’re an Aetna® DSNP member, your care team is here for you. They can help answer your questions and connect you with the right support for your needs. Learn more at AetnaMedicare.com.
1 Reynolds A, Mann J, Williams S, et al. Advice to walk after meals is more effective for lowering postprandial glycaemia in type 2 diabetes mellitus than advice that does not specify timing: a randomised crossover study. Diabetologia. December 2016; 59 (12): 2572-2578.
2 Kaiser Health News. Millions Of Diabetes Patients Are Missing Out On Medicare’s Nutrition Help. September 2019. KHN. Accessed June 24, 2021.
3 American Diabetes Association. Lifestyle management: standards of medical care in diabetes — 2019. January 2019. Accessed June 24, 2021.
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