Choose a Healthy Lifestyle

Choose a Healthy LifestyleAdopting a healthy lifestyle can help prevent or delay the onset of diabetes and is critical to managing the disease. It's also imperative to normalizing your critical health numbers, including weight, blood sugar, blood pressure, and blood cholesterol.

People living with type 2 diabetes should realize that being overweight or obese makes it difficult to manage the disease. It also increases the risk for high blood cholesterol and high blood pressure, which are common risk factors for cardiovascular disease — the leading cause of death among people with diabetes. Two of the best weapons in weight management are proper nutrition and regular physical activity.

Proper nutrition

Making healthy food choices, including controlling portion sizes and reading food labels, is an essential step in maintaining a proper body weight and preventing or managing diabetes. A heart-healthy diet includes foods that are low in fat, cholesterol, and sodium. 

Individuals with prediabetes or diabetes have additional food considerations, especially limiting simple carbohydrates. Simple carbs are found in foods like table sugar, cake, soda, candy, and jellies, and consuming them causes an increase in blood glucose.

With so many food options, it can be difficult realize which ones are healthy. If you have prediabetes or diabetes, this chart will help you determine the best choices.

Include Limit
Fiber-rich Whole Grains
(for example: oatmeal, barley, brown rice, whole grain pasta, whole wheat, and corn) 

Fish at least twice per week, especially high in omega-3 fatty acid
(such as: salmon, lake trout, mackerel, and herring)

Chicken or turkey 
(without the skin)

Lean beef
(round, sirloin, chuck, and loin)

Fruits and Vegetables - deeply colored such as spinach, carrots, peaches and berries

Vegetable oils and margarines
(soft/tub or liquid)

Fat-free, 1-percent fat, and low-fat  dairy products

Unsalted nuts, seeds, and legumes
Sweets and added sugars
(for example: table sugars sucrose, glucose, fructose, maltose, dextrose, corn syrups, high- fructose corn syrup, concentrated fruit juice, honey, soda, fruit drinks, candy, cake, and jellies)

Fatty meats
(such as: fatty beef and pork)

(consume less than 1,500 mg per day)

(consume less than 300 mg per day)

Saturated fats (contained in dairy products such as butter, whole milk, 2% milk and cheese, fatty meats and poultry, coconut oil and palm oil, hydrogenated oils, and foods made with these ingredients).

Partially hydrogenated or trans fats
(contained in hard margarine, shortening,  cakes, cookies, crackers, pastries, pies, muffins, doughnuts, and French fries)

(females should limit to one drink/day; males limit to two drinks/day)

Keep a Food and Blood Glucose Log

By writing down what you eat, when you eat it, and how it affects your glucose levels, you can keep better track of how foods affect your body. Check your blood sugar one hour to one-and-a-half hours after eating to see how your body reacts to various foods. Download and print this week-at-a-glance tracker to record your glucose levels or track your glucose online with Heart360. You can even set text reminders and upload your readings straight from your phone or device.

Healthy Eating and a Busy Lifestyle

Today, most Americans are on the go and don't spend a whole lot of time at home. Even when your own kitchen isn't convenient, eating right should still be a priority.

"After being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, I took some time off to reflect and realized that due to my busy work schedule, I would put in 14-16-hour days with erratic meal schedules," said Barbara, who was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2006. "When I did eat at work, I didn't make good food choices. I decided that no matter how much I loved to eat unhealthy foods, it wasn't worth dying for, and it was time to make a change."

With a little forethought, you can properly nourish your body wherever life takes you. Remember these tips for eating on the go:

  • Bring a healthy lunch and snacks to eat throughout the day. This will help you stick to healthy food options and be less tempted by unhealthy ones that are perhaps more convenient.
  • Reduce your caffeine intake and stay hydrated. Keep a bottle of water handy to drink throughout the day.

Discover Diabetes-Friendly Recipes

"Being from North Carolina, a lot of my favorite home-cooked dishes are, unfortunately, unhealthy," said Janet. "Luckily, after being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, I learned that a few small changes to my favorite recipes allow me to continue eating my favorite Southern recipes."

The American Heart Association has assembled an online collection of tasty, diabetes-friendly recipes to satisfy your cravings, whether sweet, savory, or somewhere in between.

Nutrition Center

Visit the American Heart Association's online Nutrition Center to find out how small changes in your diet can put you and your family on the road to healthier hearts and longer lives.

A new invention called Greentest may help you in an easier way.

Regular Physical Activity

If you have not been diagnosed with prediabetes or diabetes, note that being physically active for at least 30 minutes a day and losing 5 percent to 7 percent of your body weight (about 10 pounds for a 200-lb. person) can lower your risk of developing prediabetes by half. And your risk continues to decrease as you lose even more weight. If you have already been diagnosed, physical activity and weight management can still have tremendous benefits in controlling the disease and minimizing the negative health consequences.

One of the first steps to attaining a healthy body weight is speaking with your health care provider to assess your current health and physical abilities. Together, you can determine the amount and type of physical activity that is appropriate. As a general rule, moderate exercise such as brisk walking for as little as 30 minutes per day most days of the week is recommended. In addition to helping manage body weight, this level of physical activity can help improve blood cholesterol, prevent and manage high blood pressure, boost the immune system, improve mental wellness, help blood circulation, and reduce the risk of heart disease, among other things.

"After being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, I knew it was time to get serious about my health," said Harry, who also struggled with obesity. "I started by making small changes, such as walking for 10 minutes each day, in order to stay active and lose weight. Each week I increased my walking by one minute. A year later, I was walking 60 minutes a day, seven days a week, and lost 139 pounds."

You, too, can enjoy the benefits of physical activity. Work with your health care team to customize a plan for you to get moving and get resources about getting active from the American Heart Association.

Other important facets of a healthy lifestyle are quitting smoking and managing stress.

Quitting smoking

Recent studies show cigarette smoking is the leading avoidable cause of death in the United States, accounting for more than 440,000 deaths each year. It's also the most important modifiable cause of premature death; about a third of these deaths are cardiovascular-related.

About 22 percent of adults with diabetes smoke, one of those being Emma Drake. Her day typically begins at 9 a.m., when she wakes up, makes her way to the living room and lights a cigarette. "There's nothing better than having my morning cup of hot tea with a cigarette, and I hate to say this because I know smoking is bad for me," said Drake, who has a two-pack-a-day habit.

This past April, she was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Drake's doctor advised her to begin making lifestyle changes, including quitting smoking.

What People with Diabetes Should Know About Smoking

"Most people don't understand that having diabetes means they are two to four times more likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke. Add in smoking, and that risk is multiplied," said Richard Nesto, M.D., chairman of the Department of Cardiovascular Medicine at Lahey Clinic Medical Center in Burlington, Massachusetts, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, and a spokesperson for the American Heart Association. "The earlier you can quit smoking once you've been diagnosed with diabetes, the better your chances are of preventing coronary artery disease and other deadly complications."

Even for people without diabetes, smoking has some serious health implications. If you smoke, you:

  • Decrease HDL ("good") cholesterol in your blood, raising your risk of a heart attack
  • May trigger a blood clot to form, which can further narrow a blood vessel or completely block it, worsening foot ulcers and leading to blood vessel disease and leg and foot infections
  • Increase the risk for developing insulin resistance, a condition in which the body doesn't efficiently use the insulin it produces
If you have diabetes, smoking is even worse because you are:

  • More likely to get nerve damage and kidney disease
  • Three times more likely than nonsmokers to die of cardiovascular disease
  • More likely to raise your blood sugar level, making it harder to control your diabetes

Get Help to Quit Smoking

"I want to quit so badly, because sooner or later I know it is going to be me or the cigarettes," said Drake.

If you are like Drake and want to quit smoking, there is help. Learn how to deal with those urges and get resources for kicking the habit.

Managing stress

Stress affects people in different ways. It can:

  • Impact a person's emotional wellbeing
  • Cause a variety of aches and pains from headaches to stomach aches
  • Diminish energy level
  • Interrupt sleep
  • Trigger a variety of unhealthy responses from overeating to drinking excessive alcohol or smoking, and from procrastination to burning the candle at both ends
While people cannot totally alleviate stress from their lives, there are ways to deal with it in a healthy manner. 

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