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The Healthy Living Magazine

20 Ways to Improve Your Health Right Now

By Allison Tsai ,


The first step to a healthier diabetes lifestyle can often feel like a giant leap. But not all change is a monumental effort. There are smaller, more manageable shifts you can make to bridge that gap between the past you and the new, improved you. You don’t have to take our word for it, though. Here are 20 tips straight from the minds of top diabetes experts—and the pages of scientific journals—to get you started.

1. Take Pen to Paper.

Write a “Dear Self” letter that describes why you want to make a particular change. Maybe you want to lower your A1C before becoming pregnant or lose weight before your granddaughter’s wedding. On the days when your motivation is dwindling, pull out your letter. It will remind you of the “why” and motivateyou again.
—David K. Miller, RN, BSN, MSEd, CDE, FAADE, nurse and diabetes educator

2. Strike a Balance.

Switch your focus from avoiding certain foods to finding balance in your diet. For example, mashed potatoes are fine if they’re portioned to fill roughly a quarter of a medium plate, with a quarter of the plate containing a lean piece of meat and half of the plate containing vegetables.
—Kara Mitchell, MS, RD/LDN, ACSM-RCEP, CDE, dietitian and exercise physiologist at the Duke Health and Fitness Center

3. Search for Discounts.

Medication costs can be a burden—and lead some people to skip their doses. But that can result in poorly managed blood glucose. Instead, scout out the best deals on medications by checking with drug manufacturers and your health insurance. Pharmaceutical companies often provide medication coupons to patients. And many times, you can save money by using the mail-order benefit your insurance offers.
—Timika Chambers, MSN, RN, BSN, CDE, nurse and diabetes educator

4. Shift Your Perspective.

Rethink the word “disease” as it relates to diabetes. “Disease” conjures images of illness and can make you feel like you’re not in control of your health. Instead, think of diabetes as a very manageable condition. Viewing diabetes this way, you might start feeling better about yourself and improve your outcomes.
—Sandra Arévalo, MPH, RD, CDN, CDE, director of nutrition services and outreach programs at Montefiore Health System

5. Turn Out the Light.

The blue light from your devices can disrupt your sleep and keep you awake. Hit the “off” button on your electronic devices a couple of hours before you go to bed. It’ll help you get your recommended seven to eight hours of sleep.
—Kirsten Ward, MS, RCEP, CDE, diabetes educator

6. See a CDE.

It’s a fact: Certified diabetes educators are great resources for diabetes management. In studying the effect of diabetes self-management education on adults with type 2 diabetes, researchers found that people who regularly met with a diabetes educator saw significant improvement in their A1Cs.
Patient Education and Counseling, June 2016

7. Exercise in Bursts.

In need of a workout but short on time? Try high-intensity interval training, a workout that pairs short bursts of exercise with periods of recovery. Research shows that, in people with type 2 diabetes, just 25 minutes of high-intensity interval training three times a week can improve insulin resistance, fasting blood glucose (a high reading can indicate diabetes that is not well managed), and A1C. If you’re not able to do vigorous exercise, stick to 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity each week.
Obesity Reviews, November 2016

8. Follow a Healthful Eating Plan.

Try the Mediterranean diet or the DASH diet, both of which are good choices for people with diabetes. They’re also smart options for those with hypertension, heart disease, and obesity. Recent studies even show improved brain function with these diets. Aim for olive oil instead of butter, lean protein (such as poultry and fish) over red meat, and plenty of whole grains, leafy greens, berries, and nuts.
—Leann Olansky, MD, endocrinologist at the Cleveland Clinic

9. Save Money on Supplies.

Skimping onsupplies to save cash isn’t a good idea. It can make your diabetes management less effective. Check with your insurance company to see if your glucose meter and test strips are on its list of preferred devices. Such devices—selected by your insurance company—are available for free or at a reduced cost. Test strips will also be discounted for a preferred meter.
—Timika Chambers, MSN, RN, BSN, CDE, nurse and diabetes educator

10. Be Rx Savvy.

Don’t be afraid to quiz your health care provider before starting a new treatment. Good questions to ask include: What is this medication for? How does it work? How should I take this medication to help it work best? What can I expect when I start this medication?
—Holly Gurgle, PharmD,BCACP, CDE, assistant professor of pharmacotherapy at the University of Utah College of Pharmacy

11. Avoid Medication Snafus.

If you have a pen for long-acting insulin and one for rapid-acting insulin, it can be hard to keep them straight. One solution: Put a colored elastic band on one of the pens. That way you have a tactile cue and a color cue.
—Kirsten Ward, MS, RCEP, CDE, diabetes educator

12. Give up Cigarettes.

We all know smoking can cause cancer, but that’s not all. It’s a major risk factor for heart disease, for which people with diabetes have a greater risk than people without diabetes. Research shows it is also associated with the onset and progression of diabetes-related complications, such as kidney and heart diseases, as well as an increased risk of early death. The good news: It’s never too late to quit. One study found that participants with type 2 diabetes who gave up smoking had reduced markers for kidney disease and improved blood pressure after only one year.
—American Diabetes Association 2018 Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes

13. ID Yourself.

Wear a medical alert bracelet or necklace with information on your type of diabetes and if you use insulin. It can be your voice when you can’t speak.
—Timika Chambers, MSN, RN, BSN, CDE, nurse and diabetes educator

14. See Your Eye Doctor.

Even people who consistently see their primary care doctor and specialists can forget one key member of the health care team: the eye doctor. Keep regular appointments with your eye specialist so he or she can check for retinopathy at each visit. There are lots of treatments available if signs of retinopathy appear and are caught at an early stage, before you notice a change in vision.
—Leann Olansky, MD, endocrinologist at the Cleveland Clinic

15. Mind Your Meds.

There are all kinds of tools to help you remember which medications you take and when to take them, but here are two easy tricks: Use a cell phone app to keep an up-to-date list of your meds, and set an alarm to alert you when it’s time to take them.
—Chuck Riepenhoff, RPh, CDE, clinical pharmacist at ProMedica Health Systems, Diabetes and Nutrition Education Services

16. Set Your Routine to Music.

While an alarm acts as a reminder to take your medication or check your blood glucose, music can help get you through your entire morning routine. Create a playlist of your favorite songs to listen to after waking. When the first song plays, you can check your blood glucose and take your medication. The start of the second song can prompt you to get your breakfast ready and sit down to eat. It’s a helpful way to remember those tasks that can keep you healthy.
—Toby Smithson, MS, RDN, LD, CDE, dietitian and diabetes educator

17. Catch More Z's.

If you miss a good night’s sleep, you may be prone to eating higher-calorie and higher-fat foods. Researchers found that when study participants were sleep-deprived, they opted for snacks with 50 percent more calories and twice the fat than when they were well-rested. They also found that sleep restriction boosted a chemical in the blood that’s responsible for triggering a case of the munchies. Set yourself up for a good night of sleep: Keep your bedroom cool and, if needed, use earplugs or a white noise machine. And to counter the domino effect of the occasional restless night, stock your kitchen with fruits and veggies instead of high-fat snacks.
Sleep, February 2016

18. Breathe.

Mental stress can affect people with diabetes in two ways: physiologically and behaviorally. Stress hormones released by the body during times of duress can raise blood glucose. At the same time, stress may lead to a break from healthy eating and exercise routines, both of which are key for managing diabetes. Here’s a trick to help you de-stress: Focus on breathing techniques. There are plenty of apps that can help, including Headspace and Calm. Both offer guided meditation programs to relax your mind.
Science Signaling, October 2012

19. Put Your Best Foot Forward.

Always take off your shoes and socks in the examining room at your health care provider’s office. It’ll help remind both you and your doctor to check your feet.
—Timika Chambers, MSN, RN, BSN, CDE, nurse and diabetes educator

20. Experiment in the Kitchen.

Healthy eating doesn’t have to be boring. Try sautéing vegetables in a pan with a teaspoon of olive oil and adding your favorite spices. Replace white pasta with whole grains, lentils, or spaghetti squash for added flavor and nutrients. Cook beef or chicken in a slow cooker to infuse flavor without the extra calories. Looking for a healthy snack? Try sprinkling cinnamon or another sweet spice over popcorn.
—Kara Mitchell, MS, RD/LDN, ACSM-RCEP, CDE, dietitian and exercise physiologist at the Duke Health and Fitness Center



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