How to manage diabetes to live a longer and better life

Approximately 29 million people in the United States have diabetes, making it an ongoing healthcare concern. If you are among that number, you can make changes and choices that can help you lead a healthier life and at the same time help relieve the burden of diabetes on the healthcare system, even if ever so slightly.

Eating right

Healthy food choices

·         Smaller portions.

·         Eating less fat.

·         Using less fat for cooking.

·         Limiting foods high in saturated fats or trans fats, like the following:

-        Fatty meat cuts.

-        Fried foods.

-        Whole milk.

-        Dairy products made with whole milk.

-        Salad dressings.

-        Lard, shortening, stick margarine, and nondairy creamers.

Eat more of these:

  • Breakfast cereals made with 100% whole grains.
  • Oatmeal.
  • Whole grain rice.
  • Whole-wheat bread, bagels, pita bread, and tortillas.
  • Dark green vegetables.
  • Orange vegetables.
  • Beans and peas.

Eat less of these:

  • Fruit-flavored drinks.
  • Sodas.
  • Tea or coffee sweetened with sugar.
  • Canned/packaged soups.
  • Canned vegetables.
  • Pickles.
  • Processed meats.

Resources for a diabetes meal plan

·         A registered dietitian.

·         The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

·         The American Association of Diabetes Educators.

·         The American Diabetes Association.


Being active


·         Physical activity helps keep blood sugar, weight, and blood pressure under control, prevent heart and blood flow problems, and reduce risk of heart disease and nerve damage.

How much and how often?

·         At least 30 minutes on 5 or more days of the week.

·         Start with a little exercise, and work your way up.

·         Walk 10 or 20 minutes each day than one hour once a week.

·         Examples of moderate-intensity physical activity include walking briskly, mowing the lawn, dancing, swimming, or bicycling.

·         Talk to your doctor about a safe exercise plan.

Recommended activities

·         Walking vigorously.

·         Hiking.

·         Climbing stairs.

·         Swimming.

·         Aerobics.

·         Dancing.

·         Bicycling.

·         Skating.

·         Skiing.

·         Tennis.

·         Basketball.

·         Volleyball.

·         Strength training exercises with hand weights, elastic bands, or weight machines.


·         Heavy weights may be dangerous for people with blood pressure, blood vessel, or eye problems.

·         Diabetes-related nerve damage can make it difficult to tell if you’ve injured your feet during exercise.

·         Physical activity can lower blood glucose too much and cause hypoglycemia.

·         Check your blood glucose before you exercise; if it’s under 100, have a small snack to prevent hypoglycemia.

·         Bring food or glucose tablets with you when you exercise just in case.

·         Do not exercise if your blood glucose is higher than 300, or your fasting blood glucose is above 250 and you have ketones in your urine.

·         After you exercise, check to see how it has affected your blood glucose level. Also check for sores, blisters, irritation, cuts, or other injuries in your feet.

Emergency preparedness

Emergency preparedness

·         Insulin Storage and Potency.

·         Blood Glucose Meters and Hurricane Disasters.

·         Diabetes Disaster Preparedness.

·         Foot Care for People with Diabetes.

Preventing complications

Preventing cardiovascular disease

·         Eat right.

·         Get physical activity.

·         Maintain healthy blood glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels.

·         Choose a healthy diet, low in salt.

·         Work with a dietitian to plan healthy meals.

·         If you’re overweight, talk about how to safely lose weight.

·         Ask about a physical activity or exercise program.

·         Quit smoking.

·         Get a hemoglobin A1C test at least twice a year.

·         Get your blood pressure checked at every doctor’s visit.

·         Get your cholesterol checked at least once a year.

·         Take medications if prescribed by your doctor.

Eye health

·         Keeping blood glucose levels closer to normal can prevent or delay the onset of diabetic eye disease.

·         Have an eye doctor give you a dilated eye exam at least once a year.

Kidney health

·         Controlling blood glucose can prevent or delay the onset of kidney disease. 

·         See a doctor if you develop a bladder or kidney infection; symptoms include cloudy or bloody urine, pain or burning when you urinate, an urgent need to urinate often, back pain, chills, or fever.

Nerve damage

·         Keep blood glucose as close to normal as possible.

·         Get regular physical activity.

·         Do not smoke.

·         Take good care of your feet each day.

·         Have your doctor examine your feet at least 4 times a year.

·         Get your feet tested for nerve damage at least once a year.

Foot care

·         Check for cuts, cracks, sores, red spots, swelling, infected toenails, splinters, blisters, and calluses on the feet each day. Call your physician if such wounds do not heal after one day.

·         Ask your doctor or podiatrist about the best way to care for corns or calluses.

·         Wash your feet in warm water and dry them well.

·         Cut your toenails once a week or when needed.

·         Cut toenails when they are soft from washing.

·         Cut them to the shape of the toe and not too short. File the edges with an emery board.

·         Rub lotion on the tops and bottoms of feet – but not between the toes – to prevent cracking and drying.

·         Wear well-fitting shoes.

·         Break in new shoes slowly, wearing them 1-2 hours each day for the first 1-2 weeks.

·         Wear stockings or socks to avoid blisters and sores.

·         Wear clean, lightly padded, well-fitting socks – seamless socks are best.

·         Always wear shoes or slippers; it is easy to step on something and hurt your feet when barefoot.

·         Protect your feet from extreme heat and cold.

·         When sitting, keep the blood flowing to your lower limbs by propping your feet up and moving your toes and ankles for a few minutes at a time.

·         Avoid smoking.

·         Keep blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol under control.

Oral health

·         Keep blood glucose as close to normal as possible.

·         Brush your teeth at least twice a day.

·         Floss once a day.

·         Keep any dentures clean.

·         Get a dental cleaning and exam twice a year.

·         Tell your dentist you have diabetes.

·         Call your dentist in cases of gums that are red, sore, bleeding, or pulling away from the teeth; any possible tooth infection; or soreness from dentures.

During flu season

The flu

Diabetics are thrice more likely to likely to be hospitalized from the flu and its complications than other people. The flu may also interfere with blood glucose levels.

  • Get a flu shot.
  • Take prescription flu medicine when your doctor prescribes it.
  • Follow special sick day rules for people with diabetes (see below).
  • Take daily steps to protect your health (see below).

Diabetes sick day guidelines

  • Continue taking diabetes pills or insulin. Don’t stop taking them even if you can’t eat. Your doctor may advise you to take more insulin during sickness.
  • Test your blood glucose every 4 hours, and keep track of the results.
  • Drink extra (calorie-free) fluids, and try to eat as you normally would. If you can’t, try to have soft foods and liquids with the equivalent amount of carbohydrates that you usually consume.
  • Weigh yourself every day. Losing weight without trying is a sign of high blood sugar.
  • Check your temperature every morning and evening. A fever may be a sign of infection.

Call your doctor/visit the E.R. if:

  • You feel too sick to eat normally and are unable to keep down food for more than 6 hours.
  • You have severe diarrhea.
  • You lose 5 pounds or more.
  • Your temperature is higher than 101 degrees F.
  • Your blood sugar is lower than 60 mg/dL or remains over 250 mg/dL on 2 checks.
  • You have moderate or large amounts of ketones in your urine.
  • You have trouble breathing.
  • You feel sleepy or can’t think clearly.

Daily steps to protect  your health

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after coughing or sneezing. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
  • Keep enough home medical supplies to last for a week in case you have to stay at home.


Related: Early symptoms of Diabetes