5 ways staying healthy may help you control your diabetes

Diabetes is one of the most common chronic conditions in the United States. As of 2018, an estimated 34.2 million people have diabetes, which is about 10.5% of the U.S. population. 

Whether you’re newly diagnosed or you’re working to better control your condition, you may be able help reduce your health complications and improve your quality of life with a few tweaks to your daily habits.  

Dr. Jennifer Hone, a clinical endocrinologist and national chief medical officer of diabetes for Optum Health, shares how lifestyle changes are the cornerstone of both prevention and management of diabetes. She provides five changes that may help you stay in control of your diabetes. 


1. Eat well-balanced meals
Food plays a large role in your blood sugar levels, so knowing which foods to eat may help you feel in control. Try planning out your meals to ensure they have a good mix of fruits, vegetables, protein, fat and starches. Avoid foods high in sugar like candy, sweetened drinks and baked goods. 

Dr. Hone says an easy first step is to reduce your processed food intake. This means learning to eat fewer foods that come in a box or can, which are often mixed with unhealthy ingredients like hidden sugars, fats and salt. Consuming excess calories may cause weight gain, and too much fat tissue may lead to insulin resistance.  

2. Stay active 
Exercising is important for many reasons, including the management of diabetes. Working out may improve your blood sugar levels because your muscles use glucose for energy. It is recommended that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity per week. This can be as simple as two brisk 30-minute walks and two 20-minute jogs during the week.

If you are considering a program more vigorous than brisk walking, consider clearing it first with your doctor. Be aware of the warning signs of low blood sugar levels, like shakiness, lethargy or lightheadedness. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) suggests following the 15-15 rule.

3. Avoid smoking and limit alcohol
Tobacco and nicotine lessen the effectiveness of insulin, which can make it difficult to manage your blood sugar levels. If your diabetes is out of control, you may be at risk for other health problems, like heart disease or kidney failure. To lower your risk of complications, avoid smoking and using tobacco products. 

Talk to your doctor about whether or not you should drink alcohol. If your diabetes is under control, it may be safe to consume in moderation, while considering the following tips to help you make healthier choices:  

  • Be sure to eat before drinking to help prevent low blood sugar.
  • Choose drinks with fewer calories and carbohydrates, like light beer, hard seltzers or dry wines.
  • Before you go to sleep, check your blood sugar to ensure it’s not too low. If it reads low, have a snack before bed. 

4. Manage your stress 
Taking control of your stress may help you better manage your diabetes, because cortisol (the stress hormone) may increase your blood pressure, raise your heart rate and cause a rise in your blood sugar levels. 

Dr. Hone suggests some ways to help you manage your stress, including: 

  • Relaxation techniques, like deep breathing or yoga
  • Exercising
  • Sharing your feelings with family or friends or a mental health professional
  • Joining a support group

5.     Build a care team
Finding a diabetes care team is important for empowering you to live a healthier lifestyle. Your team may include your primary care doctor, an endocrinologist who specializes in diabetes, a registered dietician, a certified diabetes educator or a personal trainer. It’s important to choose a team that can help provide you with the tools, resources and support you need to better manage your diabetes.

Check your health plan benefits to see what diabetes programs may be available. If you are an eligible UnitedHealthcare member with type 2 diabetes, consider learning more about the Level2TM digital therapy. 

Understanding how different lifestyle factors may influence your blood sugar levels is the first step in taking control of your diabetes. If you are still having trouble managing your condition, reach out to your health care team for help.