Written by: American Heart Association
More than 10% of people in the U.S. have diabetes, which causes too much of a simple sugar called glucose to build up in the blood. When not properly managed, this excess sugar can lead to complications such as blindness, amputations and kidney and heart disease.
In fact, people with diabetes are about twice as likely to have a heart attack or stroke.
The good news is that managing diabetes properly can reduce the risk of developing such complications, said Kellie Slusher, the Ambulatory Quality and Diabetes Education Coordinator at Lake Health.
Lake Health offers a diabetes program for their patients, as well as group and one-on-one classes. “We focus on total body wellness,” Slusher said.
Here’s what the diabetes educators tell their patients:
Smokers are far more likely to develop diabetes than non-smokers, and the more you smoke, the greater the risk.
Smokers with diabetes also are more likely to have severe complications, such as:
- Decreased blood flow in the legs and feet
- Eye and nerve damage
- Heart and kidney disease
“There are support groups to help people quit and medications to curb cravings,” Slusher said. “It’s something that needs to be taken seriously.”
If you smoke, take steps to quit now.
Take your medicine as prescribed
If you have diabetes, your doctor may prescribe medication to lower your blood pressure, cholesterol and A1C, a measure of your average blood sugar over the past three months.
Failing to take your medications as prescribed can increase the risk of heart attack, stroke and kidney disease, Slusher said.
Indeed, studies show poor medication compliance is associated with an increased risk of death, more emergency room visits and higher overall health care costs.
A number of tools exist to help you remember to take your medications, Slusher said, including smart phone apps, digital pill dispensers, timers and reminder charts.
Eat a heart-healthy diet
Slusher strongly recommends skipping so-called junk foods like fast food and foods with added sugars in favor of more nutritious, heart-healthy foods. Think vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean protein sources such as fish, poultry and vegetable proteins.
In other words, swap that bowl of sugary cereal for fiber-filled oatmeal, which has been shown to both lower cholesterol and slow the body’s absorption of sugar.
Slusher also encourages patients to track their weight and daily food intake and to savor every bite, avoiding distractions, such as watching TV, which may lead to overeating.
“We work with the patient to individualize what works best for them,” she said, noting that some people do better with a diet rich in whole grains while others prefer a higher protein diet.
Getting your blood pumping offers a whole host of benefits, including weight loss, blood pressure control and decreased cholesterol, Slusher said. In fact, on its own, sitting around too much is one of the major risk factors for heart disease.
Regular physical activity helps lower insulin resistance. This means your body can use its own insulin more effectively.
While Slusher acknowledges that exercise can be more difficult for people who are overweight or who don’t feel good because of their blood sugar, she said it’s important for them to do what they can.
For some people, that means walking around the house during commercial breaks. Or those confined to a chair can do leg and arm lifts while watching TV.
“Doing that multiple times per day is better than nothing,” she added, noting that exercise also helps with circulation, which is especially important for people with diabetes. “Moving your body makes you feel better.”
Make sure to get enough shut eye
According to Slusher, sleeping well is important for everybody, particularly people with diabetes. “If you’re not getting enough rest, you won’t have energy to move your body,” she said. “It’s a cycle.”
In addition, studies show that not getting enough z’s can increase insulin levels and lead to changes in hormones such as leptin, which regulate appetite. This may lead to weight gain.
Slusher advises her patients to turn off the TV, leave mobile devices in another room and to sleep in a cool, dark space. It’s recommended that adults get seven to nine hours of sleep a night.
“Sleeping in a cool room slows down your metabolism, which slows down your circulation and lets your body heal,” she said.
Keep a lid on stress
Long-term stress can negatively impact both health and wellbeing, flooding the body with a hormone called cortisol, which can spike blood sugar levels, heart rate, blood pressure and triglycerides.
Too much stress can also make the blood stickier and more likely to clot, which increases the risk of stroke.
Slusher emphasizes the importance of self-care and patients are encouraged to meditate, a technique to clear the mind by focusing on your breathing or repeating a word or sound.
“If you remove the things causing the body harm, it will begin to heal itself,” Slusher said. “With good habits, people with diabetes can definitely improve their quality of life.”