You can do all the right things; take your meds on time, never miss a doctor’s visit, and track your blood sugar levels in a neatly stacked diary. But one of the most important measures; and one that most patients ignore — lifestyle modification — is considered the first line of diabetes therapy.
Lifestyle modification does not mean changing your life entirely so that it becomes unrecognisable. Much like the name suggests, it refers to tweaking your daily routine to incorporate healthy habits that will help manage your diabetes better. Not to mention — improve your overall health.
Don’t believe us! Here’s proof: a 2006 study found that a six-month lifestyle modification intervention in patients with Type 2 Diabetes resulted in significant, improved glycemic control.
Diet and exercise are primary therapeutic options for diabetes management. They also work in helping medicines or insulin that you may be prescribed to work more effectively.
Here’s an easy-to-understand guide to making lifestyle modifications to better control your diabetes:
The Pillars of Lifestyle Intervention
A simple hack here is to fill your meal plate half with fibre (non-starchy veggies), a quarter of proteins and a quarter of carbs (starchy veggies). Since carbs have the highest impact on your blood sugar, ‘counting’ your carbs is a good idea. A registered dietician can help you plan your meals and watch your carb intake. It’s advisable to look for a dietician that is affiliated with a diabetes management programme.
People with diabetes are advised to aim for a minimum of 150 mins of exercise per week with not more than a day’s gap between active days. Exercising daily helps improve insulin sensitivity by reducing body fat, and allowing insulin to be absorbed more efficiently. Take up resistance exercises, such as lifting free weights or doing weight machine exercises to increase strength. Studies have proven that for adults with Type 2 Diabetes resistance training can build strength by about 50% and improve HbA1C levels by 0.57%.
In fact, in a groundbreaking study, lifestyle intervention in older adults with Type 2 Diabetes led to significantly greater sustained improvements in weight loss, cardio-respiratory fitness, blood glucose control, blood pressure, and lipids. It was also found that patients needed fewer medications. They even experienced lower overall healthcare costs, compared to a diabetes support and education only control group (with no lifestyle intervention).
How to Start Your Lifestyle Modification
When bringing about changes in your lifestyle, it is always best to start slow. Make small changes incrementally so they build up to one big change. Let’s see how you can apply that to bringing about diet and activity changes in your life.
When it comes to diet, you can do your own research or, even better, consult a certified dietician or nutritionist. They will help you eat healthier without drastically changing the ingredients and staple foods of your diet. You can start by changing one meal in the day, and gradually progressing to other meals as well. Slowly, replace your sugary or caffeinated drinks with sugar-free green tea, which has anti-oxidants. It also improves metabolism.
You will be spoiled for choice with the types and flavours of green tea out there. Try different varieties till you find the one that works for you. Within a month, you will realise that you have switched over to a healthy alternative. You can also aid yourself in this process by keeping a diary of the foods you’ve eaten. There are diabetes-care apps that help you do that and also give you feedback on improving your future meals.
But What About Eating Out?
The changes you make to your diet should be sustainable. You may think restaurant outings will put a dent in your plans but there’s no need to curb your social life. Eating healthy does not mean depriving yourself. Having a dietician to consult with will be of great assistance at such a time. They will be able to help you select your meals when you decide to eat out. In the Wellthy Diabetes app, your health coach may help out by discussing what’s safe to order at your favourite restaurants or suggest suitable restaurants that will help you break the monotony without falling off your meal plan. If you happen to cheat on your diet due to an unplanned outing, your dietician can certainly tell you the best way to get back on track.
With exercise too, starting slow and building up is a suitable plan for a more sustainable effort. We’re all guilty of making excuses about being too busy with work or household chores to find time for an exercise regime. But the regime is a rather bid word. Start with just 10 minutes a day. Take a walk after lunch, ditch the car and walk to the grocery store, stretch while watching TV or try doing Surya Namaskar while you wait for your chai to cool in the morning. Find just 10 mins. It’s easily achievable.
Once you get into the 10 min habit, start adding 5 min every week or two. In a month or so, you will be doing 30 min of daily exercise. And remember, even if it is 3 sessions of 10 min activity, that still counts towards your target. It’s better than no activity! But you must keep pushing yourself. Track your activity on your phone to see how many calories you have lost or steps you’ve covered. Some apps, like the Wellthy Diabetes app, will also show you trends of your activity: e.g. days you exercised most and least.
Don’t Delay, Start Today
You are in control of two important pieces that will help you solve the diabetes puzzle. Don’t delay in getting them out and using them. Start as soon as you can. Planning will certainly help. Do some research and reach out to certified practitioners who can guide you on this journey of lifestyle modification.
- Kim, S. H., Lee, S. J., Kang, E. S., Kang, S., Hur, K. Y., Lee, H. J., … & Lee, H. C. (2006). Effects of lifestyle modification on metabolic parameters and carotid intima-media thickness in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Metabolism, 55(8), 1053-1059.
- Sahay, B. K., & Sahay, R. K. (2002). Lifestyle modification in management of diabetes mellitus. Journal of the Indian Medical Association, 100(3), 178-180.
- Mayo Clinic. Diabetes diet: Create your healthy-eating plan. Available at https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/diabetes/in-depth/diabetes-diet/art-20044295 [Accessed June 2018]
- Colberg, S. R., Sigal, R. J., Yardley, J. E., Riddell, M. C., Dunstan, D. W., Dempsey, P. C., … & Tate, D. F. (2016). Physical activity/exercise and diabetes: a position statement of the American Diabetes Association. Diabetes Care, 39(11), 2065-2079.
- Pi-Sunyer, X. (2014). The Look AHEAD trial: a review and discussion of its outcomes. Current nutrition reports, 3(4), 387-391.