How to Manage Type 2 Diabetes with Diet and Exercise

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Type 2 diabetes affects nearly 11% of the US adult population, with even more people classified as pre-diabetic. Considering the numerous health risks like stroke, blindness, and even amputation associated with this condition, managing diabetes is paramount to living a healthy lifestyle. 

Fortunately for all of us, type 2 diabetes is not only manageable— in many cases it can be prevented or even driven into remission. How, you ask? Though the same healthy living strategies that benefit everyone: diet and exercise!

Diabetes, as you may know, is an affliction where either the pancreas doesn’t make enough insulin for the body, or the body can’t use insulin properly. Insulin is an essential part of the metabolic process of glycolysis, which converts blood sugar into energy for the body’s cells. As such, it’s essential for those with diabetes or prediabetes to manage their blood sugar levels through a commitment to a healthy diet and exercise routine. Here’s our guide on how to manage type 2 diabetes with diet and exercise.

Managing type 2 diabetes with diet

Eating to manage type 2 diabetes: 

Eating right doesn’t mean giving everything up besides salads and water. The “diabetic diet” isn’t restrictive like keto, paleo, or Atkins. Diabetes management is a long game, so following an appropriate diet is more about day-to-day meal planning and better food choices. 

What should I eat when managing diabetes?

When eating to manage diabetes, the focus should be on eating a variety of healthy foods in appropriate proportions. You should be striving to eat natural, unprocessed foods from all corners of the food pyramid (or MyPlate, as it’s now known). Whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, low-fat dairy, and healthy fats should all be balanced parts of your day-to-day diet. 

What foods should I avoid when managing diabetes?

The foods to limit are similarly important for everyone to limit, diabetes or not. Avoid fried foods, anything high in sodium, sugary sweets and beverages, and alcohol. That’s not to say that you have to cut these out altogether. As long as you account for it in your meal planning and don’t overdo it, sugar and carbs as a sometimes treat are still a-ok.

Focus on meal planning to make your diabetes diet easier to stick to. Two of the most common meal planning systems are the “plate method” and carb counting. You can find more information on how to use these systems from the American Diabetes Association.

Exercising to Manage Type 2 Diabetes -- Photo by Lisa Wall on Unsplash

Why do I need to exercise if I have diabetes?

It’s good for you! Exercise uses sugar (glucose) as energy, so it naturally lowers your blood sugar levels after working out. By building a consistent routine, you can even teach your body to use insulin more effectively

Plus, physical activity helps burn calories and can facilitate weight loss, another important factor in managing diabetes or prediabetes. Studies have shown that by losing less than 10% of your total body weight you can reduce your risk for diabetes by over 50%, and in some cases drive type 2 diabetes into remission.

How should I be exercising to manage diabetes?

The American Diabetes Association recommends at least 150 minutes of aerobic exercise and two to three sessions of weight training per week if able. If you’re not currently active, it can seem intimidating to start out. Talk with your medical practitioner before starting a new exercise plan. Make small changes in your day-to-day in the beginning, adding more strenuous activities as you progress toward your goals. 

Make sure you plan ahead before going out on a new exercise regime. Always bring water to avoid dehydration, as well as a small snack in case your blood sugar levels drop to hypoglycemic levels. Check your blood sugar as recommended by your healthcare provider.

Some great exercises for those trying to manage diabetes include:

  • Walking
  • Swimming
  • Yoga
  • Cycling
  • Resistance training
  • Weight lifting
  • Bodyweight calisthenics

Learning how to manage type 2 diabetes with diet and exercise can be a challenging process, but power through! The health benefits possible by maintaining a healthy diet and exercise program are available to everyone, but they’re even more helpful to those currently struggling with or at risk of developing diabetes. Remember to consult with a medical professional before making changes to your diet or fitness routine.

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