While the advice to “eat lightly” sounds simple, food issues can be complicated. That’s where a registered dietitian (RD) who specializes in diabetes can help. An RD can give you basic information about good nutrition and healthy eating and can help you design a meal plan that will help to control your diabetes. Checking in with an RD at least annually is ideal, since your needs and your diabetes treatment will likely change over time. Usually with a physician referral, most insurance plans, as well as Medicare, will pay for at least an annual visit with an RD.
Breathing deeply is associated with a relaxed body and a calm state of mind, while shallow breathing is associated with stress, anxiety, and pain, as well as with some serious medical conditions. Learning to breathe deeply is at the center of many relaxation techniques, including the Relaxation Response, developed by Herbert Benson, MD, and based on traditional forms of meditation. Practicing a relaxation technique not only slows breathing but also lowers blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle tension.
The benefits of learning to relax are obvious when dealing with a condition that requires as much care as diabetes. Having to regularly monitor your blood glucose level, make decisions about healthy food choices, fit in time for physical activity, and take one or more medicines can get stressful. Add to those responsibilities things like maintaining a household and coping with job and family stresses, and on occasion, life and diabetes care may start to become overwhelming.
While learning and practicing a relaxation technique may sound like one more thing to do, in fact, it can make your entire to-do list easier to face. It may also help you feel less anxious about asking for help when you need it. For example, if your diabetes needs extra attention, you might want to ask a family member to help out with chores around the house to free up some of your time. Or, if possible, you might want to request a day off from work once in a while to catch up on your diabetes care appointments.
A diabetes support group can also be a source of social, emotional, and practical support. Each group is different, and some may emphasize presentations by experts at meetings while others focus more on group discussion. (Many groups fit in some of both.) But all should provide the benefits of connecting with other people facing the same challenges and learning new coping skills through sharing experiences and information.
The advice to live moderately can be applied to many parts of life, including eating, drinking alcohol, and being physically active. But while moderating one’s food and drink often means cutting back, being moderately active means increasing activity levels for most people.
A sedentary lifestyle is common among American adults, including those with diabetes. That’s unfortunate, because regular, moderate physical activity can be very effective at lowering blood glucose levels and improving heart health — a benefit everyone could use.
The general recommendation for exercise for adults with diabetes is at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic exercise and three weekly resistance training workouts. If you currently do no exercise at all, start by checking in with your diabetes care team to see if you should be screened for heart problems or other diabetes complications. Also ask your team to advise you on the type, amount, and intensity of exercise that is right for you. No matter what your ultimate goal, you will need to build up slowly (again, practicing moderation), increasing the length and intensity of your activity sessions by small increments at a time.
You may think that cheerfulness is an inborn personality trait, but in fact, cultivating an attitude of cheerfulness can be learned like any other habit — even if life often feels stressful or difficult. Exactly how it’s done depends on the person, but here are some ideas for cultivating cheerfulness in your life:
- Look for opportunities to laugh. Not only does it feel good to have a hearty belly laugh, it’s literally good for your health, lowering the stress hormones that can raise blood glucose levels. So seek out people, pets, TV shows, YouTube videos, joke-a-day calendars, or anything else that makes you laugh.
- Smile more often, even if it’s just at yourself in the mirror, and even if you don’t really feel like it. Sometimes smiling when you don’t feel particularly cheerful can make you feel a little more cheerful. And if you get a smile in return from another person, so much the better.