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Managing Type 2 Diabetes: Living a Healthy Life

When you keep your blood sugar on target, you reduce your risk of complications. Here are some ways you can get under control.

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If you have type 2 diabetes, your body doesn't make enough insulin, or it can't use the insulin it makes.

Your body uses insulin to move glucose (sugar) from the blood into the cells. Your cells then use that sugar for energy. Without insulin, sugar stays in your blood. Over time, high blood sugar levels raise your risk of serious health problems such as kidney disease and blindness. You are also at high risk for heart disease.

Your targets

You can manage your diabetes and live a healthy life. Your goal is to keep your blood sugar levels within a target range. This can lower your risk of complications from the disease. Your doctor can tell you what your blood sugar target is. Most likely, you’ll need to test your blood sugar regularly to make sure you're meeting your goal. Ask your doctor how many times a day you should test. Be sure you know how to use your testing supplies, so the results are accurate.

You’ll also need to keep your "diabetes ABCs" close to their targets. Your doctor can tell you what these are for you.

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) suggests the following for most people:

  • A for A1C: The hemoglobin A1C (HbA1C) test shows what your average blood sugar levels have been for the past three months. Hemoglobin A1C is measured in percentages. Most often a goal below 7 percent is often used for non-pregnant adults. However, your doctor will set a goal for you, depending on your age, risk of low blood sugar and whether you have other conditions and complications.
  • B for blood pressure: Blood pressure is the force of blood that travels through your arteries. High blood pressure can lead to heart or blood vessel disease. Your doctor will help you set goals if you have diabetes and high blood pressure.
  • C for cholesterol. Cholesterol is a fatty substance (lipids) in your blood. Having high cholesterol, such as high LDL levels, can add to heart problems. For most people with diabetes, doctors recommend that you take a statin. If you take a statin, be sure to take it as prescribed. Your doctor may check your cholesterol levels to see how well the statin is working.

How to meet your goals

Your diabetes treatment will be unique to you, but you can expect your doctor to discuss the need for a healthy diet and exercise. Many people will be asked to lose weight. Others will need to take medication.

Your doctor will create a plan to meet your needs. He or she will check in with you to see if the plan is working. Follow your treatment plan exactly as prescribed.

Reach or keep a healthy weight. Weight and type 2 diabetes seem to be linked. Studies show that weight loss can lower insulin resistance and blood pressure. It can also improve blood sugar and cholesterol levels. (For people with prediabetes, that same weight loss can delay or prevent diabetes.)

Have a healthy diet. Your diet should focus on the same foods as any other healthy diet: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat and fat-free dairy. Limit foods high in saturated fats, salt and added sugars. Avoid trans fats. Be careful with sugar-sweetened drinks.

Figuring out what — and when — to eat can be tricky. For example, some people may need to count carbohydrates. The ADA suggests that all people with diabetes seek nutritional counseling. A registered dietitian can work with you to create a meal plan that you will stick with and enjoy.

It’s important to be consistent. Your blood sugar could dip too low if you skip meals.

Exercise regularly. Exercise helps your body respond better to insulin. It also lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, and helps you to lose weight.

Aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. Try to spread that over at least three days. Resistance training also has shown benefits for controlling diabetes. People with type 2 diabetes are encouraged to do strength training at least twice a week, if it’s safe for your situation. Start slowly — you can gradually increase the amount of activity you do as you get in better shape.

Check with your doctor before you start or increase your activity level. Ask if there are any exercises or activities that are unsafe for you. You may be advised to eat before exercising or keep emergency glucose sources handy.

Take medications and insulin as prescribed. You may need medication to help control your diabetes, blood pressure or cholesterol. You may also need to take insulin if your body cannot make enough. Your doctor can explain your options, but be aware that some people can manage diabetes without medication.

For success

All parts of your care plan work together to help you meet your diabetes goals. Even if you take medication, you’ll need to eat right and exercise. Pay attention to other aspects of your lifestyle, too: don’t smoke, if you choose to drink, limit alcohol consumption (some people should not drink at all) and take care of your dental and mental health.

Managing diabetes is a lifelong endeavor, but if you make healthy choices and take care of yourself, you’ll handle it in stride.

By Emily A. King and Jenilee Matz, Contributing Writers

American Diabetes Association. Standards of medical care in diabetes–2019. Accessed February 13, 2019.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. What Is Diabetes? Updated Nov. 2016. Accessed February 13, 2019.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Diabetes. Accessed February 13, 2019.

Last Updated: February 14, 2019