How much difference can exercise and a plant-based diet make in managing diabetes? Turns out, a lot.
A diagnosis of diabetes can be absolutely devastating. It can mean that a total change of lifestyle is required and can come with the potential for future, and often more serious, health problems. But there’s some good news: type 2 diabetes can be reversed, and it can also be easily maintained with a few healthy lifestyle choices, like switching to a plant-based diet.
If you have just been diagnosed with diabetes, you’re no doubt feeling a confusing mix of emotions. The best thing you can do is to formulate a plan for moving forward. You’re going to need to make changes to stay on top of your condition. It won’t be easy at first, but the sooner you start the quicker you’ll get used to it.
Managing blood glucose levels
Staying aware and on top of your blood glucose level is absolutely crucial for living with diabetes. Fluctuations in blood sugar can cause a range of symptoms and can even lead to serious emergencies like a diabetic coma.
One method of checking blood glucose is through the finger-pricking method. You prick your finger with a needle to draw blood and then drip the blood onto a special test strip, which is then inserted into a machine called a blood glucose meter. This meter will then give you a reading of your current blood glucose level.
Another method is through the use of what’s known as a continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) system. People with a CGM have a tiny sensor that sits directly under their skin, constantly assessing their blood sugar. It sends regular updates to a device that can be attached to the belt or kept in a pocket, as well as alerts if blood glucose should reach a dangerous level.
Lifestyle changes for living with diabetes
Your primary care physician will have some recommendations about managing your diabetes diagnosis. Those may or may not include two key lifestyle shifts: increasing your physical activity and embracing a plant-based diet.
Does exercise help with diabetes?
Exercise isn’t just good for our bodies; it also has proven benefits for our mental and emotional well-being, which can be essential in coping with the diagnosis of a life-altering disease like diabetes.
For those with diabetes, getting exercise is absolutely vital. Being overweight can be dangerous for diabetic people, while physical activity has been found to help lower and regulate blood sugar levels.
According to Harvard Health, studies have found exercise to lower HbA1c values (hemoglobin A1c is average blood sugar levels) by 0.7 percentage point across a range of ethnic groups. All forms of exercise from aerobic to resistance showed benefits in lowering the HbA1c values.
Walking at least two hours per week reduced the risk of death from heart disease compared with sedentary counterparts. Increasing exercise to three or more hours, decreased the risk even further. For women, four hours of exercise per week reduced the heart disease risk by 40 percent.
Diet’s role in diabetes prevention and treatment
Diet is important for all of us, but even more so for those of us who suffer from diabetes. A good diet won’t just help to check your blood sugar in check, it will offer you a range of additional health benefits.
One of the most important things for diabetes patients to watch for is their carbohydrates intake. Carbs are turned into sugar by our bodies, so too many carbs could cause an unexpected and potentially dangerous spike in your blood glucose.
Following a general, healthy, and balanced diet is your best bet. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, the experts recommend we eat at least five portions of each per day.
Some research suggests a plant-based diet may help in managing and reversing type 2 diabetes. One study, published last year in the journal Advances in Nutrition, found that a plant-based eating pattern was connected with both a reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes and highly effective in treating it.
According to the Perspective authors, “observational studies in widely diverse locales have identified large reductions in diabetes risk among populations consuming vegan and vegetarian eating patterns compared with other dietary patterns.” The researchers pointed to the Adventist Health Study-2, which looked at more than 60,000 participants’ diets, beginning in 2002. According to those findings, the prevalence of diabetes was 49 percent less among vegans and 46 percent less among lacto-ovo vegetarians compared with non-vegetarians.
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