Diet and Exercise

Manage Your Diabetes

Diabetes cannot be cured, but it can be managed. Managing blood glucose (blood sugar) as well as blood pressure and cholesterol is the best defense against the serious complications of diabetes.

People with type 1 diabetes manage their blood sugar with insulin -- either delivered by injection or a pump. Many people with type 2 diabetes can manage blood glucose levels with diet and exercise alone. Others require oral medications or insulin, and some may need both. Diabetes is a progressive disease and, over time, people with diabetes may need both lifestyle modification and medications.

Follow a Meal Plan

Making healthy food choices is very important to help keep your blood glucose level under control.

A registered dietitian can work with you to develop a healthy eating plan. He or she can help you design a meal plan that takes into consideration various factors including your weight and daily physical activity, blood glucose levels, other health conditions and medications. If you are overweight, a plan to help you achieve a weight that is right for you will help manage your blood glucose. Your dietitian can help you plan meals to include foods that you and your family like to eat and that are good for you.

(Watch the video to learn about eating healthy with diabetes. To enlarge the video, click the brackets in the lower right-hand corner. To reduce the video, press the Escape (Esc) button on your keyboard.)

What to Eat

People with diabetes don't need to buy or prepare special foods. The foods that are best for someone with diabetes are excellent choices for everyone: foods that are low in fat, salt, and sugar, and high in fiber, such as beans, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. These foods help you reach and stay at a weight that's good for your body, keep your blood pressure, glucose and cholesterol in your target range, and prevent or delay heart and blood vessel disease.

For more information on nutrition and older adults, see Eating Well As You Get Older.

Get Regular Physical Activity

Regular physical activity is important for people with diabetes. Being physically active has been shown to improve blood glucose levels in older people whose levels are high. Exercise is especially good for people with diabetes because it

  • helps manage weight
  • helps insulin work better to lower blood glucose
  • is good for your heart and lungs
  • gives you more energy.

Safety First

Before you begin physical activity, talk with your doctor. Your doctor may check your heart and your feet to be sure you have no special problems. If you have high blood pressure or eye problems, some activities like weightlifting may not be safe. Your health care team can help you find safe ways to be active.

For tips on safety issues older adults should consider before starting a new exercise program, see Exercise: Safety First

Walking, swimming, dancing, riding a bicycle, playing baseball, and bowling are all good ways to be physically active. You can even get exercise when you clean house or work in your garden.

How Much? How Often?

Try to be active almost every day for a total of about 30 to 60 minutes. If you haven't exercised lately, begin slowly. Start with 5 to 10 minutes, and then add more time. Or exercise for 10 minutes, three times a day. (Tip: you don’t need to get your exercise in all at one time.)

To see examples of exercises for older adults, see Exercises to Try. Or visit Go4Life®, the exercise and physical activity campaign from the National Institute on Aging.