Type 2 diabetes is a chronic condition that occurs when your body can no longer control the amount of sugar in your blood. It can lead to a number of health complications if not managed properly, including heart disease, sight loss and nerve damage.
There is no cure for the condition, but maintaining a healthy weight, eating a nutritious diet and exercising regularly can help. Pharmacist Anshu Bhimbat outlines the simple lifestyle changes you can make to help you manage the condition, without taking medication.
‘There are a few things that you can do to help manage diabetes and make it a part of your day-to-day life,’ says Bhimbat. ‘Small lifestyle changes can make living with type 2 diabetes easier, delay the progression and support a healthier lifestyle. In some cases, dietary changes and weight loss can even help reverse the insulin sensitivity that people with type 2 diabetes experience.’
Bhimbat recommends the following 8 lifestyle tips to help manage type 2 diabetes:
- Cut down on carbohydrates
Carbs are not the enemy – we all need them to survive. But the type and amount you consume can make a difference to your condition.
‘A low carbohydrate diet is highly recommended for people living with type 2 diabetes, as it will lower the amount of insulin that the body needs to produce with research showing that it can even put type 2 diabetes into remission,’ says Bhimbat. ‘Cutting down on carbohydrates alongside other healthy lifestyle and dietary changes, can reduce blood sugar levels into a non-diabetic range.’
Diabetes UK suggest the following three ways to include good carbohydrates in your diet:
✔️ Choose wholegrain breads and cereals.
✔️ Have fruit whole, rather than as a juice. Eating an apple with the skin on, for example, will provide more fibre than drinking a glass of apple juice.
✔️ Try quinoa and couscous as an alternative to pasta.
- Get regular health checks
It’s important to get your health regularly monitored by your doctor or local pharmacist, because type 2 diabetes can put you at risk of other conditions too.
People with diabetes can be at greater risk of developing cardiovascular diseasestherefore it’s important to get an annual check of your blood pressure,’ says Bhimbat. ‘Poor cholesterol control can also lead to cardiovascular disease. However, a regular check will allow you to understand your levels and make appropriate dietary and lifestyle changes, to reduce any other future health complications.’
- Get acquainted with GIs
Knowing about the type of carbs that are likely to affect your blood sugar the most is essential. The Glycaemic Index (GI) can tell you which foods will make your blood sugar spike, and these are the foods you want to try and avoid.
‘GI measures the effect foods containing carbs have on blood glucose levels and where possible you should avoid foods with a high GI as it means its carbs are absorbed quickly, which can raise blood glucose,’ says Bhimbat. ‘High GI foods include white bread, potatoes and some breakfast cereals, low GI foods include sweet potatoes and yam, beans, lentils, oatmeal and granary bread, therefore try and substitute high GI foods to low GI.’
- Monitor your blood sugar
Regularly monitoring your blood glucose levels is important. ‘Keeping your levels under control can decrease the risk of any complications in the future,’ says Bhimbat.
‘You should take readings before meals and two hours after a meal. Aim for 4 to 7mmol before and less than 8.5mmol after meals.’
5.Find a fitness activity you love
Not everyone loves the gym and that’s OK. But exercise can also help to improve your blood sugar levels, so it’s worth finding an activity you enjoy. It can be a simple as a 10 minute walk in the countryside at a pace that gets your heart racing.
‘Physical exercise can help maintain a healthy weight and improve the condition of your heart and lower your blood pressure,’ says Bhimbat. ‘Exercise also helps control blood glucose levels as when exercising, your muscles are able to use glucose, even without insulin. Regular exercise may be difficult to fit into your daily routine; however, you could make a start with 10 minutes of exercise a day, and gradually increase this.’
6.Look after your digits
Focus on foot care and visit your podiatrist regularly, because people with type 2 diabetes can experience sensation and circulation problems in the hands and feet.
‘Looking after your feet should be part of your daily routine, just as managing your blood glucose and diet is,’ says Bhimbat. ‘Your daily routine should include checking for changes, washing and drying your feet thoroughly (including between the toes!) and regularly applying moisturiser suitable for the whole foot.’
- Maintain a healthy weight
It’s a myth that everyone with type 2 diabetes is overweight. But losing weight (if you do need to) can help reduce your need for medication.
‘A balanced diet should include plenty of vegetables and fibre foods while avoiding high saturated fats,’ says Bhimbat. ‘Having diabetes shouldn’t mean that you have to follow a sugar-free diet. Small, irregular treats in moderation won’t affect your health or diabetes management in the long term.’
- Get your eyes check annually
Eye health is another important point to consider for people with type 2 diabetes. ‘Annual eye checks are vital due to the risk of diabetic retinopathy, a complication that occurs due to high blood sugar levels damaging the back of the eye,’ explains Bhimbat. ‘At the early stages symptoms can go unnoticed but can be picked up in photographs taken in the NHS diabetic eye screening programme.’