Potato chips or an apple? Regular or diet? We all make dozens of small decisions each day. If you have diabetes, some of these choices have a direct impact on your blood sugar control.
Understanding how your daily routine affects your disease can help you keep control of your diabetes—without letting it take over your life. Here’s what you need to know.
1. Your Diet
The amount, type, and timing of the foods you eat play a big role in keeping your blood sugar steady. Work with your doctor or a nutrition specialist to design the diet that’s best for you. Several strategies, such as carbohydrate counting or an exchange list, can simplify your eating plan.
2. Your Drinking
Alcohol can cause your blood sugar to drop dangerously low, a condition known as hypoglycemia. It’s possible you could miss the signs—including dizziness and disorientation—because they resemble the effects of too much drinking. As a result, you might not recognize an emergency and seek treatment to bring your blood sugar levels back up to normal.
If you choose to drink, limit the amount of alcohol you consume. Stick with one drink per day if you’re a woman and two if you’re a man. Always pair alcohol with food, and check your blood sugar before, during, and after imbibing.
3. Your Workout
Overall, an active lifestyle leads to better diabetes control. But working out changes your blood sugar in the short term. Talk with your doctor about what types of workouts are best and whether you need to adjust your meals or your diabetes medications when you exercise. He or she may suggest scheduling your workouts for a certain time of day. You’ll also need to check your blood sugar levels before you start exercising. Be sure to keep food or sugar tablets with you in case your blood sugar drops too low mid-workout.
4. Your Immune System
Colds, flu, and other infections leave you feeling bad. They can also send your blood sugar soaring. Serious complications, including coma, can result.
With your doctor and the rest of your diabetes care team, work out a plan for what to do when you’re under the weather. For instance, you may need to check your blood sugar more often or drink more water than usual. Your doctor will also tell you when you should seek immediate treatment. Usually, he or she will want you to call if you vomit more than once, have a high fever, or feel confused.
5. Your Hormones
Birth control pills may increase women’s blood sugar levels. Using them for more than a year or two may increase your risk for side effects and complications. Talk with your doctor if you have concerns about your reproductive health.
Shifting hormone levels during menopause may also make it more difficult than before for women to control their diabetes. And women with diabetes often go through menopause earlier, increasing their risk for heart disease. Your doctor can recommend treatments that reduce your menopause-related symptoms, without interfering with your diabetes control.
6. Your Stress Level
Whether it’s a tough day on the job or a physical injury, your body reacts to stress in similar ways. Your fight-or-flight response triggers the release of stress hormones. These hormones send sugar surging through your bloodstream. In the short term, you’ll have the energy you need to escape danger. But if pressure lasts for a long time, your blood sugar levels can stay elevated, harming your health.
Control stress by changing the situation when you can. For instance, reach out to end a family quarrel, or talk with your boss about shifting your responsibilities at the office. You can also take steps to relax. Practice deep breathing for 5 to 20 minutes per day. Or, look for a support group to help you manage the stress of coping with your diabetes.
Understanding how your daily routine affects your diabetes can help you control the disease.
For example, when you have a cold, you may need to check your blood sugar more often, or drink more water than usual.
Exercise changes your blood sugar in the short term, so ask your doctor if you should adjust your meals or medications when you work out.
Birth control pills may increase women’s blood sugar levels. Using them for more than a year or two may increase your risk for complications.