The bedrock of type 1 treatment is insulin therapy, but your lifestyle choices are also a crucial part of your treatment — choices like what you put in your body, how you move it, and how much rest you give it.
“A healthy, balanced diet, and a routine which regularly incorporates physical activity and leaves time for sleep is even more important for a person with type 1 diabetes than for everyone else,” says Soumya Adhikari, MD, associate professor of pediatrics at UT Southwestern Medical Center and medical director of the Endocrinology Clinic at Children’s Health in Dallas.
“Attention to these things can help minimize the swings in glucose levels as well as deliver many other health benefits.”
Choose the Right Foods — With Help
Knowing what to eat and when can be one of the most challenging parts of type 1 management. If you’re at all confused, call on a professional. “A registered dietitian with experience working with persons with type 1 is a great source of help,” Adhikari says.
Once you know your diet goals, you can use other tools to stay on track. “Apps with nutritional information about common foods can be handy when you’re eating something you’re less familiar with and need to know how many carbs or how much protein or fat are in whatever you’re eating,” he says. If you want a simple rule of thumb, start with this: Fill half your plate with vegetables at each meal.
Work in a Workout
Exercise boosts your body’s response to insulin and helps prevent glucose swings. A good guide: Don’t go more than 2 days without exercise. With your doctor’s OK, shoot for 150 minutes of physical activity a week. “Even a brisk walk for 30 minutes after a meal can help maintain lower glucose levels,” Adhikari says.
A careful watch on your glucose is the key to safe and successful workouts. “Take precautions by knowing your symptoms of hypoglycemia,” Adhikari says. Consider wearing a continuous glucose monitor to see how exercise affects your glucose levels, and eat some healthy carbs, like a slice of whole-grain bread or an apple, before exercise if your glucose levels are not above a certain threshold to minimize your risk.
Reduce Your Stress
Stress makes blood glucose levels rise, and not just while you’re in the thick of it. “You tend to fall into a routine where you’re exercising less, sleeping less, eating less healthy, and in general paying less attention to taking care of yourself,” Adhikari says. “All of this can snowball into less effective diabetes care.”
He recommends a few simple stress slashers: One, make sleep a priority so your body gets the daily reset it needs. Two, take time to celebrate easy wins like reaching your steps goal for the day.
Most of all, turn your focus inward instead of outward. “Resist the urge to compare yourself to others,” Adhikari says. “Your situation, your challenges, and your priorities are your own. Everything from the medicine you take, to the type of equipment and technology you use to manage your diabetes, to the meal plan you set for yourself, might be very different from someone else’s approach, and that’s OK.”
Soumya Adhikari, MD, helps you craft talking points for your next office visit.
1. Make a topic list.
Having a plan to discuss what is most important to you can be crucial to making the most of your time with your doctor.
2. Identify your priorities.
We all have different goals and challenges. Your doctor can help you best if he or she understands what your concerns are.
3. Talk about exercise.
Your doctor can help you with strategies to stay on track and avoid blood glucose dips when working out.
4. Discuss diet preferences and changes.
Your doctor may be able to advise you about whether a change is right for you based on your individual risk factors and priorities.
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