5 tips that may help you prevent or manage type 2 diabetes

Living with type 2 diabetes may feel overwhelming at times, especially during a health pandemic.

It’s best to take steps to avoid type 2 diabetes in the first place. However, if you’ve already been diagnosed, it’s important to try and keep your condition under control. For people with diabetes, elevated blood sugar levels may create a host of potentially dangerous health concerns, including an increased risk of getting severely ill from COVID-19.

The good news: If you’re one of the 30 million Americans with type 2 diabetes or the 88 million with prediabetes, there are several strategies that may help reduce your risks — and November’s National Diabetes Month may be a good time to focus on them.

Unlike type 1 diabetes, which is generally caused by genetics or environmental factors, type 2 diabetes is largely preventable or may be put into remission through a combination of consistent lifestyle changes.

Here are five tips to help prevent or more effectively manage type 2 diabetes from Dr. Donna O’Shea, chief medical officer of population health for UnitedHealthcare:

1.     Access health resources

Preventing or possibly reversing type 2 diabetes means having a balanced diet with limited amounts of sugary or processed foods, a commitment to daily activity and quality sleep. To help achieve those health goals, look for free, publicly available resources.

For example, the American Diabetes Association offers a 12-month online program called Living with Type 2 Diabetes, designed to help you learn about the disease and discover techniques for managing it. Another program called Better Choices for Life brings the American Diabetes Association’s guidelines into grocery stores, which may help you make informed choices about which products to purchase.

2.     Monitor your BMI and weight

Body mass index (BMI), a calculation of body fat based on height and weight, may be a helpful measure in assessing your risk of developing diabetes. While BMI can be misleading for some people, including muscular athletes, research shows that people with even moderately elevated BMI levels may have an increased chance of developing type 2 diabetes and its complications.

If your BMI indicates a possible risk, a weight loss program may help. In fact, research shows that when an overweight person loses just 5% of their initial weight, it might reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by more than 50%.

For support shedding unwanted pounds, check with your health plan for resources. For instance, Real Appeal® is an online program designed to help build healthy habits across key areas, such as nutrition, fitness, sleep and stress — all of which may be beneficial in preventing or managing diabetes. Real Appeal is available at no additional cost to eligible UnitedHealthcare members and their dependents as part of the member’s health plan benefits.

3.     Use interval eating

The old saying “you are what you eat” rings true in managing obesity and diabetes, but when and how you eat may also be relevant.

Intermittent fasting, also called time-restricted eating, alternates periods of fasting and eating during the day or throughout the week. Lifestyle changes that involve intermittent fasting may include waiting at least an hour after waking before eating breakfast or avoiding food within three hours of going to sleep to see how the adjustment may affect your blood sugar.

Besides the timing of meals, consider the combinations of foods and how you eat them. For example, eating carbohydrates with foods that have protein, fat or fiber may affect how quickly your blood sugar rises. For instance, if you are eating crackers, consider adding a slice of cheese for important protein.

In addition, portion sizes may make a big difference. The Plate Method may help you fill yours with nutrient-rich foods by devoting half your plate to non-starchy vegetables (think broccoli, green beans or brussels sprouts), a quarter with lean protein (chicken, turkey or fish), and a quarter of carbohydrates (potatoes, pasta or rice). 

4.     Consider consistent walking, especially after meals

Physical activity is important for people with diabetes because it helps control blood sugar levels, so

 try to work in short walks after eating meals or snacks, especially if they include juices, desserts or other items that contain added sugars.

A 15-minute walk after a meal may help reduce the risk of blood sugar spikes by assisting the body in moving sugar from the blood into muscle cells. If possible, make your daily goal to do six short walks of at least 300 steps and one brisk 30-minute walk of at least 3,000 steps.

5.     Take advantage of technology

Smartwatches and fitness trackers may help in monitoring health measures like daily steps, sleep patterns and even blood sugar levels. Recently, some people living with type 2 diabetes have started using a continuous glucose monitor to help manage their disease.

This technology uses a sensor, often worn on the abdomen, to continuously read and transmit blood sugar data to the user’s smartphone. This real-time information can be used by the person with diabetes and a health care team to help reveal relationships between eating, exercise, sleep and blood sugar levels.

Some health plans are providing fitness trackers and financial incentives to help encourage members to get or stay active. Other types of technology, including virtual primary care visits, are also being used to connect members with health professionals who may be able to help them more effectively manage their type 2 diabetes.  

For more information about managing diabetes, visit the UnitedHealthcare Newsroom.