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Managing and Staying Healthy with Type 2 Diabetes

October 29, 2016
Elderly man swimming laps in pool

Caring for someone with Type 2 diabetes can be very challenging. Though every situation and person are unique, there are some common steps you can take as a caregiver to help your loved one cope.

To help you do this, you both need to learn as much as you can about Type 2 diabetes and its complications, including heart disease, blindness, nerve damage and kidney problems’ and signs of low blood glucose (sugar), such as confusion, which can sometimes be mistaken for other age-related problems. You should try to go with your loved one to doctor’s appointments to ensure you have the most up-to-date information on treatment and your family member’s condition.

Keeping Blood Sugar Balanced

As a caregiver, you can encourage your loved one to stay healthy and:

  • Eat healthy meals and snacks to prevent complications, maintain blood sugar levels and keep cholesterol low (diabetes carries a higher risk for stroke and heart attack).
  • Quit smoking which again raises the risk of stroke, heart attack and other diabetes-related complications.
  • Get physically active on a regular basis whether it’s walking, going to a class or swimming, to help reach or maintain a healthy weight and keep blood sugar levels more stable.
  • Visit the doctor, dentist and optometrist regularly to check for any complications caused by diabetes. There may be changes to medication that need to be made by the doctor. If blood sugar levels are off, they can cause problems in the mouth and teeth that need to be treated by a dentist. Diabetes can also cause blindness if not managed properly, so regular visits to the optometrist are important.
  • Check blood sugar levels regularly to ensure your loved one is in their target range.
  • Take prescribed diabetes medications to manage the condition.
  • Take care of their feet. Foot problems are common in those with diabetes and can lead to serious concerns. Make sure your loved one (or you) checks their feet daily for cuts, blisters and ingrown nails and has the doctor conduct a foot exam at least once a year. Unusual marks or feelings in the legs or feet need to be seen by a doctor right away.
  • Communicate openly with you and the medical support team. Make sure your loved one knows you’re there to help, but also to support his or her independence. The more your family member knows about Type 2 diabetes, the more empowered and encouraged your loved one will feel to manage the disease and live a healthy lifestyle.

Physical Activity and Diabetes 

If you or a loved one has Type 2 diabetes, regular physical activity can help with weight loss or management, keep bones strong, improve blood pressure control, reduce risk of heart disease and cancer and boost energy levels. A healthy active lifestyle will also improve the body’s sensitivity to insulin and help manage blood glucose levels.

But how much physical activity is enough? You or your loved one should aim to complete at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorously intense aerobic exercise each week (e.g., 30 minutes, five days a week). If this seems like a lot, start with five to ten minutes of comfortable activity each day, gradually building up to your goal. If possible and when ready, try adding resistance exercises like lifting weights three times a week.

The key is to make a plan and start with activities that make sense. Getting active doesn’t have to mean strenuous runs or pumping iron in the gym. Try activities like:

  • walking – use the support of a cane or a friend!
  • gentle movements while sitting or lying down
  • gentle weights at home – soup cans will do the trick!
  • specialty fitness classes at a community centre
  • wheeling – using a wheelchair is great exercise)
  • simple stretches
  • Tai Chi
  • swimming
  • dancing

Maintaining a Healthy Weight

Keeping yourself or your loved one at a healthy weight is a very important part of managing Type 2 diabetes. This will help keep blood glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol at ideal levels and prevent complications like heart disease and stroke.

Two easy ways to measure a healthy weight are Body Mass Index and Waist Circumference.

Body Mass Index (BMI): This measurement compares your weight to your height. For most adults aged 18-64 a BMI of 25 or higher is overweight. Calculate your BMI using this formula: BMI= weight (kg)/[height (m) x height (m)]

Waist Circumference (WC): In general, a healthy WC for men is less than 40 in. (102 cm), and for women, less than 35 in. (88 cm).

Eating Healthy

If you or your loved one have Type 2 diabetes, it is very important to speak to a dietitian. Ask your doctor or local Community Care Access Centre for a referral. A dietitian works with you to develop a meal plan for better overall health and will help keep your blood glucose levels in a target range.

A great deal of information about healthy eating and diabetes is available. Be sure to read:

Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide, Health Canada
Just the Basics: Tips for Healthy Eating, Diabetes Prevention and Management, Canadian Diabetes Association

Healthy Eating Tips

  • Eat three meals per day at regular times.
  • Space meals no more than six hours apart.
  • Make healthy snack choices.
  • Limit sugars and sweets including regular pop, desserts, candies, jam and honey.
  • Limit high-fat foods such as fried foods, chips and pastries.
  • Eat more high-fibre foods like: whole grain, breads and cereals, lentils, dried beans and peas, brown rice, vegetables and fruits.
  • Choose starchy foods at every meal. For example: whole-grain breads and cereals, rice, noodles, potatoes.

Speak with a dietitian to understand what food choices are best for you or your loved one.