17 Simple Tweaks to Improve Your Health
We’re led to believe that change has to happen on a grand scale to make a meaningful difference, but that’s not necessarily true. Little tweaks can add up. “The smaller and the more specific the goal, the better your chances of sticking to it,” says Jacqueline Shahar, MEd, RCEP, CDE, an exercise physiologist at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston. A 2017 Stanford Graduate School of Business study, for example, found that focusing on small subgoals in the early stages of a pursuit can help you ultimately reach your larger goal. Embrace even a few of the tips on these pages, and you’ll reap their health benefits for life.
1. Try Skinnier Dipping.
Dip your veggies in salsa instead of low-fat dressing. Two tablespoons of the sauce contains about 10 calories, while light ranch or blue cheese salad dressings can have seven times that amount. “Salsa is low calorie, and it’s also spicy, which can help make you feel satisfied,” says Andrea Dunn, RD, CDE, a dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic. If you can handle it, opt for a “hot” version with jalapeño peppers. They’re loaded with capsaicin, which studies have linked to weight loss.
2. Simplify Portion Control
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends filling half your plate with nonstarchy vegetables, a quarter with grains or starchy veggies, and the rest with a protein. Let your dinner plate, such as one from Livliga (livligahome.com), do the divvying up for you.
3. Go Fish.
Eating fatty fish such as salmon, trout, or sardines twice a week was associated with a lower risk of diabetic retinopathy, according to a study of people with diabetes published in 2017 in JAMA. This may be because fatty fish is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which encourage the development of blood vessel growth, including in the eyes. That’s not all: Omega-3s have been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, a condition that’s common among people with diabetes. Just be sure to limit your intake of fish known to have high mercury levels, including king mackerel, swordfish, and bigeye tuna.
4. Check Outdoor Air Quality.
Increasingly, research is linking air pollution to diabetes risk. A Washington University study published in 2018 in The Lancet Planetary Health, for example, attributes 150,000 new cases of type 2 diabetes per year to air pollution. Researchers think it triggers inflammation and causes the body to reduce insulin production. You can check local air quality at airnow.gov.
5. Join the Resistance.
A set of resistance bands is inexpensive—prices start at around $10—and you can use them anywhere, whether you’re watching TV or taking a coffee break. Aim for a resistance-training session two to three times a week. An easy beginner’s exercise: Place the center of the resistance band beneath both of your feet and hold the handles at your sides with palms facing up. Slowly curl your hands to your shoulders, keeping your elbows at your sides. Slowly lower to the starting position, then repeat eight to 12 times.
6. Get Nutty.
Instead of having a carb-heavy snack, munch on a quarter cup of nuts. They’re full of healthy fats and protein that will do a better job of keeping you full than the extra carbs. Eating 2.5 ounces of nuts a day (the equivalent of 60 almonds, 45 medium cashews, 30 hazelnuts, or about 85 peanuts) instead of a high-carb snack can improve A1C (a measure of blood glucose control) in people with type 2 diabetes, according to a study published in 2018 in Diabetologia.
Meet up with a friend for an after-work walk. Join a book club. Anything you can do to expand your social network may also help improve your diabetes. According to a 2017 Japanese study, meeting up with friends one to four times per month, as opposed to a couple times a year or fewer, was associated with better blood glucose management. “Social networks can provide a buffer against stress, and we know stress can worsen diabetes by increasing blood glucose levels,” explains Nicole Bereolos, PhD, CDE, a clinical psychologist and certified diabetes educator in private practice in Dallas.
8. Pretty Up Your Gear.
Add a pop of color to your insulin pump, meter, continuous glucose monitor (CGM), or lancing device. It may make you more inclined to use your supplies. Pump Peelz offers adhesive covers in dozens of designs. Details at pumppeelz.com.
9. Join a Support Group.
It takes just a minute or two to sign up, and the benefits are profound. People with type 2 diabetes who provide peer support to others with diabetes improve their self-care (including sticking to their eating plan and doing foot checks) and maintain better blood glucose management than those who aren’t part of a support program, according to a study published in 2015 in the Annals of Family Medicine. Whether you have type 1 or type 2, give support a go. If an in-person program isn’t for you, join the ADA’s online community.
10. Walk Away.
People with type 2 diabetes who took a 10-minute walk after dinner had a smaller rise in their after-meal blood glucose levels than when they took a 30-minute walk at another time of the day, according to a study published in 2016 in Diabetologia. Keep your sneakers in the kitchen as a handy reminder.
11. Make Mondays Meatless.
Eating a diet high in plant protein (think edamame, tofu, lentils, chickpeas, and almonds) is associated with a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, according to a Finnish study published in the British Journal of Nutrition last year. “Plant protein in general is lower in both carbohydrates and saturated fat than animal protein, making it easier to regulate blood sugar,” says Dunn. You don’t have to go cold turkey on the meat, either: The researchers estimate that replacing just 5 grams of animal protein (about an ounce of chicken, beef, or pork, or about the size of three dice) with 5 grams of plant protein (just over a full tablespoon of peanut butter) would reduce the diabetes risk by 18 percent.
12. Get Intense.
High-intensity interval training—short bursts of activity with rest breaks in between each bout of exercise—can improve insulin sensitivity in people with type 2 diabetes. Add 10 minutes of interval training to your cardio workouts (but check with your doctor first). If you’re a beginner, alternate 30-second bursts of activity, such as cycling rapidly on a stationary bike, with 90-second slower cycling periods. As your fitness level improves, gradually increase the activity to three minutes, followed by one minute of rest.
13. Stand on One Leg While You Brush Your Teeth.
This simple exercise will help you develop balance, which is important for people with diabetes, especially if you’re older, says Shahar. Start with 30 seconds, then gradually work your way up to two minutes.
14. Take a Five-Minute Meditation Break.
U.S. military veterans with type 2 diabetes who practiced focused breathing and mindful movement for 15 minutes every day for three months saw their A1C levels fall from an average of 8.3 to 7.3 percent. They also found that their diabetes-related distress decreased by 41 percent, according to a study published in 2017 in the journal Diabetes Education. Learn more about mindfulness and diabetes.
15. Start a Journal.
You may already know that journaling can improve your memory and boost creativity, but here’s another benefit: Keeping a journal can help you manage your diabetes. “It can pinpoint what’s causing you stress,” says Bereolos. Greater stress is associated with elevated blood glucose, but recognizing and dealing with the stress can help you hit your target glucose range. Keeping a journal is useful for identifying times when you’re more likely to emotionally eat, too. You can also track your foods and moods with a smartphone app such as Cara.
16. Don't Sleep in on the Weekends.
After a late night on Friday, you might be tempted to log an extra couple of hours on Saturday, but don’t. You’re messing with your circadian rhythms, which in turn can worsen your diabetes. One review of studies published last year in Endocrine Review noted that a sleep shift of even an hour was enough to decrease insulin sensitivity. If you want to sleep more, set your weekend bedtime an hour or two earlier.
17. Take an Activity Break.
The ADA’s 2018 Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes recommends doing at least three minutes of light activity for every 30 minutes of uninterrupted sitting. “Sitting increases insulin resistance, and it also increases blood pressure and impedes blood flow,” explains Shahar. Try push-ups against a wall.