Healthy Living With Diabetes

Diabetes is a disease characterized by an inability to store and use glucose. Glucose is a simple sugar and is the main source of cellular energy in the body. There are different types of diabetes: type 1 diabetes, formerly referred to as juvenile-onset or insulin-dependent diabetes; type 2 diabetes, formerly referred to as adult-onset diabetes; gestational diabetes, which comes about during pregnancy; and pre-diabetes, in which blood sugar levels are higher than normal but are lower than those needed for a type 2 diabetes diagnosis.

Nutrition and exercise are both long-term key components to diabetes prevention and management. Nutrition is all about fueling our body with the right portion of food choices

What does healthy eating mean?

Eating healthy doesn’t imply food restrictions. It means paying attention to food labels, eating a balanced diet and practicing mindful eating.

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Fruits & Vegetables

Fresh, frozen (without sauces and seasonings), canned (no salt added), or 100% juice (no salt, sugar or artificial sweetener added)


Read the label for options with no sugar or artificial sweetener added.

Whole grains

Products containing whole grains as their first ingredient! From 100% whole wheat bread, pasta, tortillas, and crackers, to whole oats/oatmeal, rye, whole wheat flour, wild rice, quinoa, etc.

Lean protein foods

Options like salmon, tuna, herring, mackerel, tilapia, sardines, seafood, chicken, turkey, cottage cheese, eggs,  beans (pinto, kidney, black), baked beans & refried beans, hummus, falafel, lentils (brown, green or yellow), peas (black-eyed or split peas), edamame are all great sources of protein.

How much exercise is enough?

Exercise has been shown to improve blood glucose control, reduce cardiovascular risk factors, contribute to weight loss, and improve well-being. Go for a walk or a run, take the stairs instead of the elevator, stand at your desk, play with your children/grandchildren, walk or bike to work.

Managing blood glucose levels is the number one goal for people with diabetes. Exercise interventions lasting eight weeks or longer have been shown to reduce levels of hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c), a marker of long-term blood glucose control. In addition, exercise improves cardiovascular fitness and can help to preserve mobility in people who are overweight and have diabetes.

Aerobic exercise has long-established benefits in helping to reduce diabetes risk and diabetes complications, but the new standards point out that adding weight training to your exercise program could increase these gains. Weight training as a stand-alone intervention has been found to reduce HbA1c levels in older adults with type 2 diabetes, and exercise programs that combine aerobic and weight training exercise have been found to have more HbA1c-lowering effects in adults with diabetes than either type of exercise alone.

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Here are the US Department of Health and Human Services’ exercise guidelines described in the standards:

Aerobic Exercise

Most adults with diabetes should engage in moderate-intensity aerobic exercise for at least 150 minutes per week, or vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise for at least 75 minutes per week, spread over at least three days with no more than two days in a row without exercise.

Weight Training

Adults with diabetes should engage in muscle strengthening activities on at least two nonconsecutive days per week. Each session should include five or more sets of resistance exercises engaging different groups of muscles so all the major muscle groups are strengthened.

Sedentary Time

All individuals, including those with diabetes, should limit time spent in sedentary activities and interrupt extended periods of sitting by briefly standing or walking every 30 minutes.

Do What You Can

If you have a condition that limits your ability to exercise, it is still important to get physical activity in any amount that matches your ability. Flexibility and balance training two to three times per week are particularly important for those aged 65 and older, whether or not they have diabetes.

Getting Started

Starting with short periods of low-intensity exercise and gradually increasing both the intensity and duration is the best approach for people with a high risk of cardiovascular disease. Consult with your healthcare practitioner to develop an exercise program that takes into account your age, fitness level, and health.


Written by Danielle Bouda, Dietetic Intern

Riverfront Hy-Vee