Diabetes can push you into a healthier life than you had before. To succeed at it, though, you have to make self-care a daily habit.
Set up a routine for yourself that includes these seven things. They don’t take the place of eating well or finding the best medications and remedies, but they are equally important. You won’t be able to get them all going at once, but you can start where you’re at and build up.
1. Brush and floss your teeth. Brush at least twice a day and floss at least once a day. Research shows that diabetes can put people at higher risk for gum disease, because extra sugar in your saliva feeds germs. Gum disease makes diabetes much worse, because it creates constant inflammation that can spread through your body and make it harder to control blood glucose levels. Studies show far higher rates of heart disease in people with gum disease.
Dental flossing helps prevent gum disease. Flossing cleans out the plaque from between teeth. This may be the single most important self-care step you can take.
2. Check your feet. Diabetes can damage circulation to the feet, making infections easier to get and harder to heal. That’s why diabetes is the leading cause of lower-limb amputations in the United States.
Look at your feet every day for blisters, cuts, sores, redness, swelling, and other problems. Apply alcohol-free lotion to them (but not between the toes). Make sure your shoes are comfortable and not too tight. Before you put on shoes, check inside them with your hand to make sure there are no sharp threads or pebbles or anything else that might cause injury.
3. Move your body. Bodies need to move, and insulin-resistant bodies need to move more. Walking, strength training, and stretching exercises are all good. If you want more vigorous movement, go for it after checking with your doctor. It may be a good idea to check blood sugar before vigorous exercise and keep glucose tabs on hand during and after exercise in case of low blood sugar.
4. Eat at regular times. This is not talking about WHAT you eat, but noting that it’s good to get into a regular pattern of eating at the same times each day. You might notice that different mealtimes have different effects on your blood sugar, so you can work with meal and medication times to get the best results.
5. Relax, meditate, pray. We all need some down time to recharge. Meditation and prayer have the added benefit of opening our minds to new awareness and ideas that our thoughts usually block.
Naps are good ways to relax. They should be short: 15–30 minutes seems ideal for lowering the risk of heart attack and stroke. Longer naps may interfere with nighttime sleep and may increase the risk of diabetes, according to research done in Japan.
6. Get some positive social contact and physical contact. We’re social beings and need other people. Try to see people every day, and try to hug at least one of them.
7. Sleep. I can’t say this too much. Sleep is good. It’s not a waste of time; it’s time your body uses to heal. Learn about ways to get more and better sleep by reading “Getting to Sleep and Staying There” or “Eating for Better Sleep,” or “Getting the Sleep You Need.”
None of these ideas take the place of more standard diabetes self-care. But they’re at least as important and are things you can do for yourself.
Having a regular pattern of behaviors makes it easier with time. They become habits. Hopefully some will become sources of pleasure.
Want more simple tips for staying healthy with diabetes? Read “Take Five for Better Health” and “Ten Good Reasons to Hate Blood Glucose Monitoring (And What to Do About Them).”