The Power of Five for Health

Managing your diabetes and trying to stay healthy can take a lot out of you. There’s so much to do: eating right, exercising, checking blood sugars, taking medication, and going to appointments. And on top of all of these self-care behaviors, you still need to go to work or school, take care of your family, clean your house, and whatever else is an important part of your life. It’s not surprising, then, that a lot of people either give up or skip certain aspects of self-management. Being overwhelmed and feeling stressed out is pretty common when one has a chronic condition. While trying to tackle a laundry list of things to do and maybe feeling discouraged when you can’t do them all, it might help to take a step back, take a deep breath, and think about these: a) you don’t have to do everything at once and b) even small steps or changes can be helpful.

There’s a saying in the health-care community that “small steps equal big rewards.” We’re constantly led to believe that we have to do everything, all the time, in order to get and stay healthy. In a perfect world, that would be the case and would be doable. But diabetes self-management isn’t all or nothing. You don’t have to do everything 100% of the time, in other words. So, to help you focus on small but meaningful steps that you can take, here are five suggestions based on the number five that might be helpful or at least get you headed in the right direction.


Lose 5% of your body weight, if you’re overweight. We’ve all heard that weight loss is important for diabetes control, prevention of heart disease and cancer, improved sleep, and less wear and tear on the joints. But losing weight can be hard and keeping it off even harder. Rather than striving to drop 50 or 100 pounds, think in terms of losing 5% of your body weight, at least initially. Research shows that a 5% weight loss yields big benefits in terms of health.

Take five minutes and move. Can’t find 30 minutes in your day to exercise? That doesn’t mean you can’t find five minutes. One study showed that people who ran for just five minutes a day significantly lowered their risk of dying. Most of us have several five-minute pockets of time during our day. Go for a walk. Climb a flight of stairs. March in place during television commercials. Grab a resistance band to work your upper body while watching a movie. Walk around the house while you’re chatting on the phone. And take advantage of other five-minute windows of opportunity over the course of the day and use them to move.

Eat from five food groups. Trying to figure out the “right” eating plan for diabetes is challenging, especially when health experts tell you to eat low fat, then low carb, then Paleo, then vegetarian…yikes! First, realize that there’s no one right eating plan. The right one is what works for you and fits with your lifestyle and preferences. However, you can make it a little easier by eating from the five food groups: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein (with healthy fats), and dairy. No one or even two food groups will provide all of the nutrients that you need. We all need to eat a variety of foods; balancing your plate can help get you there.

Go for five grams of fiber. Fiber has a lot going for it: it helps with digestion, weight control, blood sugar management, cholesterol-lowering, and cancer prevention. Yet many of us fall short of the 25–38 grams of fiber that we’re supposed to consume each day. Plant foods, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans, are key sources of fiber. But the more processed or refined a food is, the less fiber it contains. Sneak in five grams of fiber at a time by fitting some of these foods in your eating plan: apples, blackberries, lentils, lima beans, pears, raspberries, spinach, and white beans. Another tip: Start your day off with a high-fiber cereal (such as Fiber One, All-Bran, or Kashi Golean).

Breathe deeply. Stress is a part of all of our lives and it may not be going away any time soon. But not dealing with it can wreak havoc with health and make it tricky to manage blood sugars. Taking a few minutes (how about five?) to breathe deeply can work wonders by slowing your heart rate, decreasing your blood pressure, increasing oxygen intake, and relaxing muscles, according to The American Institute of Stress (yes, this really exists!). Lowering stress levels may also make it easier to keep your blood sugars within your target range. You can practice deep breathing at any time, too, whether you’re sitting at your desk, in a meeting, at the dinner table, or stuck in traffic in your car. For more information on how to do this, visit

How problematic is mercury in fish? Is seafood suitable for people with diabetes? How should fish be cooked? Bookmark and tune in tomorrow to learn the answers to these questions from a registered dietitian with diabetes.