One of the latest suggestions for effective weight loss with diabetes includes cutting back on diabetes (and other) medications that cause weight gain and trying others that help you lose weight and control diabetes. The problem is that there is more to managing your blood glucose and enjoying good health than just dropping a few pounds. Why do I say this? By way of explanation, let me tell you some of the things I’ve learned about exercise, nutrition, and lifestyle changes from working in the diabetes field for over 25 years and teaching nutrition and exercise physiology.
When people ask me how important exercise is to longevity with diabetes, I tell them the most important thing I learned when researching one of the other books (50 Secrets of the Longest Living People with Diabetes): the real secrets to living long and well are the same whether you have diabetes or not. You need to be regularly physically active, eat a (mostly) healthy diet, keep your mental stress under control, and get enough sleep.
Being regularly active definitely should come first on the list. Why? If you don’t use your muscles, over time you lose them, which is really bad for your blood glucose levels. Your body stores most of the excess carbs that you eat in your muscles as glycogen. When your glycogen “tank” gets smaller both naturally from aging and unnaturally from being sedentary, your blood glucose goes up and up. You also have to exercise regularly to use up some of your glycogen and make room for carbs to go into storage the next time you eat.
I have changed what types of activity I recommend, though. Now I’m certain that doing any type of resistance training is the most critical thing you can do to retain your muscle mass—and it’s an activity that most people don’t get any of by just walking daily (although that’s good to do, too). You can do many exercises using only your body weight as the resistance (such as “planks”), and most core and lower body exercises double as balance training, which is critical to prevent falls as you age.
As for a healthy diet, how can you know what that really is? In the last 15 years alone, what’s “healthy” has changed more times than I can count. Fat was out, but now it’s back in. Carbs were good, but now many are bad and people are obsessed with going totally low-carb or gluten-free. Eating more protein is the new way to go…for the moment at least. It’s so confusing and hard to keep up with the latest trends—many of which are not healthy for you at all!
If I had to sum up healthy eating in one word, do you know what it would be? If you guessed “fiber,” you’re right. That pesky systemic inflammation that causes weight gain, insulin resistance, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and more health problems appears to be most closely related to how much fiber you eat. The latest research suggests that inflammation is related to your gut microbiota, or the bacteria that reside in your digestive system. Many bacteria are very helpful to your health, providing you with critical vitamins (such as vitamin K) and keeping you thinner. Apparently, the “good bacteria” proliferate when you feed them lots of dietary fiber naturally from a plant-based diet. An inflammatory state appears to arise when less supportive bacteria take over and create a leaky gut. Who knew that good health may be as simple as keeping your helpful gut bacteria happy?
Seriously, though, try to eat 50 grams of fiber a day naturally. If you eat more fiber-filled, plant-based foods like veggies, fruits, legumes (like black beans and hummus—so good with baby carrots as a snack), and nuts and seeds, you’re likely to live a long and healthy life, lose weight, and be metabolically healthy. Yes, it’s that simple. Throw in small amounts of dark chocolate (70% or darker) as a natural anti-inflammatory producer (5)—thanks again to your friendly gut bacteria–and you’re good to go. As a side benefit, eating that many natural plant foods will also provide you with all of the other micronutrients that people with diabetes are so likely to be deficient in (like magnesium) that are critical to having a finely-tuned metabolism.
Finally, managing your stress, keeping a positive outlook, and getting enough sleep are important to blood glucose control. Try deep breathing exercises or a meditative exercise like yoga or tai chi, sleep 7 to 8 hours a night whenever you can, and keep a smile on your face. May your healthy gut bacteria have lots of offspring!
Check out Dr. Sheri Colberg’s courses and specialty program on Working with Clients with Diabetes or Prediabetes for more useful information about fitness, health, diabetes management, and more.
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Sheri Colberg, PhD, FACSM, is an author, lecturer, consultant, and professor emerita of exercise science at Old Dominion University and a former adjunct professor of internal medicine at Eastern Virginia Medical School. Having earned her undergraduate degree from Stanford University and a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, she has specialized in research on diabetes and exercise and healthy lifestyles and shaped physical activity recommendations for professional organizations, including the American College of Sports Medicine, American Diabetes Association, and American Association of Diabetes Educators. She has authored 12 books, 28 book chapters, and more than 400 articles on physical activity, diabetes, healthy lifestyles, and aging. In addition to her website, Diabetes Motion (www.diabetesmotion.com), she provides education to fitness professionals working with people with diabetes through Diabetes Motion Academy (www.dmacademy.com) and through her own website (www.shericolberg.com). She is the 2016 recipient of the American Diabetes Association’s Outstanding Educator in Diabetes Award.
Author of: Working with Clients with Diabetes or Prediabetes Specialist Certificate Program / Working with Clients with Diabetes or Prediabetes Level 1 / Working with Clients with Diabetes or Prediabetes Level 2 / Working with Clients with Diabetes or Prediabetes Level 3.