Staying active and eating well

Choosing a healthy, balanced diet and regular physical activity is an important part of your overall diabetes care and can help you keep your blood sugar levels under control.

It’s important for people with type 2 diabetes for two reasons:

It can help to keep your blood sugars on target:

 

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by choosing food that will not cause blood sugar levels to rise as much, and

 

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by being active to use sugar for energy

If you are overweight, it can help you bring your weight down:

 

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this can help manage your diabetes, and

 

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improve your overall health

Taking care of your body in this way can also have an additional positive impact on your emotional wellbeing, increase energy and relieve stress.


Eating well

This can feel like one of the hardest things to do, as it often seems easier or quicker to choose particular foods because they are convenient, or because that’s what everyone else is having. Eating well is about learning how to make healthy choices for you. You need to figure out what works for you and how to make healthy food choices, even when you are out with your friends.

Eating well doesn’t have to take a lot of time, cost a lot of money or be complicated. Your diabetes care team can help you create a meal plan that’s right for you and find ways to work healthy eating into your life.

The important things to remember are:

Eat a variety of foods in the right amounts

Eat regularly

Balance how much you eat with your physical activity and your medication (if you take any) to help control blood sugar levels


Diet changes and food swaps

There’s lots of small changes you can make that make a big difference to your diet; for example, changing the way something is prepared (such as grilling instead of frying in oil), choosing low-sugar or low-fat alternatives, and making swaps such as:


Carbohydrates

Another really important thing to consider is reading food labels to see how many calories and carbohydrates are in the food you are eating. Carbohydrates are important because sugar is a type of carbohydrate.

Carbohydrates come in two types:

Simple carbohydrates, or sugars (found in fruit, honey, white bread and dairy products)

Complex carbohydrates, or starch (found in potatoes, brown bread, pulses and oats)

Complex carbohydrate (starch) is made up of lots of simple carbohydrates (sugars) joined together. That’s why food labels often read “Carbohydrates (of which sugars)”.

Because of this, complex carbohydrates take longer for the body to break down, and so don’t raise blood sugar levels as fast as simple carbohydrates. This is also because complex carbohydrates have a higher amount of fibre. Fibre is also important to help control your blood sugars because it helps to slow down how fast it is absorbed.

It’s important to know how much carbohydrate is in the food you eat; this is often called “carb counting”. It’s especially important for people who are on insulin therapy because often, the amount of mealtime insulin they take will be dictated by the amount of carbohydrate that they eat.


Alcohol

People with type 2 diabetes can still enjoy alcohol as long as you are sensible about the quantity and always eat food with it, but remember that it can have unexpected effects on blood sugar. The sugar content of the alcohol can cause a sharp rise in blood sugar levels, or conversely, the combination of alcohol and anti-diabetic medication can cause hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar) – it is difficult to predict. 


Staying active

Physical activity is important not only to your blood sugar control, but to your general health too. If you find something you enjoy and that fits with your life, you’ll be much more likely to stick to it.

Some people with type 2 diabetes with a physical activity program may be able to manage their blood sugar with less medicine. It’s a good idea to follow up with your doctor or nurse before beginning or changing physical activity, then follow up again later to see if any changes need to be made to your diabetes treatment.

Even a small increase in physical activity may help with your diabetes management – you don’t need to start running marathons to see a difference! If you haven’t been active, it’s fine to start with 5 to 10 minutes a day and increase your activity a few minutes each week until you reach your goal.

The good thing is that there are so many options, that it’s just a matter of trying different things until you find one that suits you. Plus, trying new things can help to keep it interesting. If you prefer to have company, ask a friend or family member to go with you.

If you’re new to exercising, some ideas for low-impact activities could be:

Stretching and balancing movements such as pilates. These can also help with flexibility, strength and getting ready for other activities like swimming

Tai chi or other disciplines rooted in a culture that you’re interested in learning about can help you stay focused

Routines using a medicine ball or stretchy bands

Dancing, which is also an aerobic activity, meaning it gets your heart rate up, burning calories and fat and helping with cardiovascular health

Strength exercises such as lifting weights or using weight machines – if you are not experienced, this should only be done under supervision

Walking or hiking, which can also be an enjoyable way to spend a weekend day with friends or family. Make sure you wear suitable shoes!

Swimming – this is easy on the joints as you are supported by the water, and works all the main muscle groups. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t fast – you’ll still get the benefit from going at your own steady pace

It is really important that you check with your healthcare team if you are starting any exercise more stressful than a walking programme to make sure you are safe in your activities.


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