Many people over the age of 60 are living with diabetes. There is actually a worldwide epidemic of diabetes, primarily related to various lifestyle changes including obesity, and an increase in sedentary habits. According to the World Health Organization, total deaths from complications related to diabetes are expected to increase by more than 50 percent worldwide within the next 10 years, and by 80 percent in upper to middle income countries.

Understanding the Basics of Diabetes

There are two types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is characterized by a lack of insulin production and Type 2 diabetes , which is far more common, results from the body’s ineffective use of insulin, and accounts for around 90% of all diabetes cases worldwide.

If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, as “pre-diabetic,” or even if you are concerned about your risk factors for possibly developing diabetes in the future, there are many lifestyle changes that you can make. These actions will preserve your health, maintain quality of life and avoid some of the worst complications of diabetes. However, remember that taking baby steps is a good idea when addressing any lifestyle change – don’t try to change things overnight and just make small changes that will add up to a big impact over time.

I hope that the following ideas will give you plenty to discuss with your doctor on your next visit.

Get Moving!

Not an exercise fanatic? Well then just move. Walk, move around, climb stairs and don’t sit all day. Even if you just put your headphones on and dance around the room, that would still be preferable to being sedentary.

Consider buying a Fitbit to track your steps each day; it has settings to track the number of flights of stairs that you climb each day, as well as the number of calories you burn. Using a tracking device like this can be addictive (in a good way!) by encouraging you to include more physical activity as part of your everyday routine.

Even if you have been sedentary for a long time, it’s still possible to make positive changes in your physical activity levels. Start with 10 steps each day and increase every day by ten steps a day, then 50, then 500, and suddenly you are doing things differently.

If you prefer low-impact exercise, you can do gentle yoga, biking or swimming. The important thing is to make movement fun! If your exercise routine is constantly enjoyable and energizing, you’ll be more likely to keep doing it.

Lose Weight

Losing weight helps to lower your blood glucose – but go slowly at first without making too many dramatic changes in your diet. Start to eliminate processed foods that contain hidden sugar. Snack smart with lots of fresh vegetables and berries – mix it up a little by buying a good blender or juicer to make fresh smoothies and juices; keep exploring new flavours and nutrient combinations. Start cooking for yourself at home – you’ll be amazed at how much sugar you can avoid just by cooking at home from fresh, whole ingredients!

Make a meal plan for a whole week at a time or even a whole month. Use sites like Epicurious to get recipe ideas. Or check out the diabetes-friendly meal plans and recipes at Diabetes.org, including heart-healthy options. Try to look at cooking as something to be enjoyed, not as a chore. Cooking can be wonderfully fun, adventurous and creative. Think of cooking as a new way to express yourself and to learn about the world.

Reduce Stress

A diabetes diagnosis can be a sobering, sad, painful experience for many people. But one of the best things you can do for yourself is to develop a feeling of control over your diagnosis and reduce your stress levels.

People with diabetes often (ironically) live healthier lives than “normal” people, because being diabetic prompts them to stay on a more regimented diet. Look for ways to stay balanced and relaxed in your everyday life. Get plenty of sleep. Walk every day. Get regular massages for stress relief. Do whatever it takes to stay calm and level-headed and develop a sense of being confidently in command of your daily life.

Stay Hydrated

Some studies suggest that drinking plenty of water can help you manage your blood sugar levels. Drinking plenty of water each day is also important to avoid dehydration, and can help you achieve your weight loss goals – drinking enough water helps people feel full and helps them to avoid consuming extra calories.

Remember Your Medication

People with Type 1 diabetes are on insulin for life, and so it’s crucial not to miss any doses. Talk with your doctor about your options for how to keep track of your daily doses. If you have Type 2 diabetes, it’s also important that you take your diabetes medications regularly. Write yourself a reminder, or keep your medicine and insulin where it’s a visible reminder.

Get structure into your life – try to wake up at the same time each day, eat your meals at the same times each day, and live with a consistent routine that can help you stay balanced and healthy.

There are also a variety of diabetes apps that can help you manage your medication and other issues related to diabetes. Check out this article on the best diabetes apps of 2014.

Diabetes is a complex and difficult condition, but it can be managed and overcome with careful attention to your diet, exercise and overall lifestyle. Diabetes doesn’t have to hold you back from doing what you want to do in life – more people with diabetes are living healthy, active fulfilling lives than ever before. And hopefully you can too!

If you need information, resources or support, check out the American Diabetes Association or the International Diabetes Association.

What are your thoughts on this? Are you, or anyone you know, living with diabetes? Please leave a comment below.

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