Can You Control Your Diabetes With Certain Lifestyle Changes?

Medicare Benefits Solutions
May 13, 2022

Although there is no cure for diabetes, managing your symptoms and keeping your blood sugar levels regulated can be essential in leading a healthy, active life.

This may include lifestyle changes, such as following a nutritional diet plan and working out regularly, among other healthy habits your doctor may recommend. Changing your daily routine to accommodate your diagnosis may seem challenging, but the results may be well worth your efforts.

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Diabetes Self-management

If you have recently been diagnosed with diabetes, your doctor may prescribe insulin and/or diabetes medication to keep your blood sugar levels within a specific target range.

While your healthcare team evaluates what drugs, therapy and supplies you will need, take a look at the recommended lifestyle changes for diabetes that enable you to manage your condition and gain a sense of control.

Lifestyle Changes for Diabetes

While the different types of diabetes vary in terms of the body’s capacity for insulin production and the treatment plan, recommended lifestyle changes for diabetes Type 1 and lifestyle changes for diabetes Type 2 are generally the same. Diabetes patient education often includes a nutritional counselor who would lay the groundwork for steps you can take to feel better and improve your quality of life.

Lifestyle Recommendations for Diabetes

According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), “no matter if you live with Type 1 or Type 2, diet and exercise are two of the most powerful tools you have.” The suggestions below expand on why these tools are important and what other healthy practices you might want to add to your tool kit.

1. Make healthy food choices

You may have heard the adage that food is the best medicine. Many health-minded individuals try to eat more functional foods, essentially whole and minimally processed, nutrient-rich fare. If you have diabetes, the American Heart Association suggests recording your blood glucose 1 hour or 1 1/2 hours following a meal to gauge your body’s response to various foods.

You may also refer to the glycemic index (GI), a table of values that shows the effect of different foods on blood glucose levels. The GI values of functional foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and nuts vary widely within each category. You don’t necessarily need to eliminate all treats. For example, the Cleveland Clinic listing of low-GI foods includes dark chocolate with a cocoa content of 70% or more.

2. Develop an exercise regimen

Diabetes puts you at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), and lifestyle changes for diabetes that incorporate regular exercise can lower your chances of developing CVD.

There are many reasons all of us should stay physically active for a lifetime. Reducing stress, generating energy, building resilience and improving the cardiovascular system are only a few of the benefits of exercise. Popular exercise programs among older adults and people new to exercise include walking, biking and pickleball. Discuss any limitations with your physician before starting any new fitness routine or activities.

3. Maintain a healthy body weight

The Epidemic of Obesity and Diabetes,” an article published in the National Library of Medicine, states “obesity is the leading risk factor for Type 2 diabetes.” Not only can being overweight lead to complications from diabetes, but excess weight can make exercising more difficult, causing a downward spiral that impacts your ability to stay mobile and independent.

You may be faithfully eating low-glycemic foods, but the GI does not take into account serving sizes. Some people find it helpful to keep a food diary and exercise log. Tracking your food intake and activity output builds awareness and holds you accountable. Consult with your doctor or nutritionist about a realistic weight goal and how to achieve it.

4. Limit alcohol consumption

The ADA warns that the biggest concern with drinking alcohol is hypoglycemia, which is low blood sugar. Hypoglycemia can occur when you drink alcohol while taking your diabetes medication.

The liver is responsible for stabilizing glucose levels and breaking down toxins like alcohol but may not be able to perform both functions at the same time. The ADA is not stating that people with diabetes have to give up alcohol altogether but suggests that you should have a discussion about it with your doctor to establish guidelines that lower your risk.

5. Stop smoking

Smoking is commonly associated with lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart disease and stroke. But statistics demonstrating the risk of getting diabetes as a result of smoking are alarming.

“People who smoke cigarettes are 30% to 40% more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes than people who don’t smoke,” according to the American Lung Association. Smoking also adversely impacts blood circulation, and poor blood flow in your feet and legs can lead to infection and amputation.

Your healthcare provider can provide tools and resources for smoking cessation. Some people smoke to relieve stress. Managing stress is also one of the top lifestyle recommendations for diabetes.

6. Manage stress

Stress management is a healthy way to cope with day-to-day challenges. Emotional stress not only has an impact on your mental state but imposes on your physical health as well. Ignoring the strain triggers unhealthy behaviors, which can lead to obesity, excess alcohol, smoking habits, loss of sleep and a sedentary lifestyle.

It’s important to give yourself a break, nourish your mind and body, connect with people and recognize when you need professional help. You may need to learn how to delegate tasks, how to say no if you are taking on too much, and set boundaries if there is too much on your plate.

7. Go for regular checkups

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guide for a diabetes care schedule includes diabetes self-management and doctor visits. These guidelines include daily blood sugar and foot checks, and an A1C test every three months.

Regular checkups with healthcare professionals include annual dental exams, doctor visits every six months and an annual eye exam. Review your care plan with your doctor since more frequent checkups may be appropriate for you. Doctor visits are also a good time to discuss any concerns you may have about diet, exercise, weight, alcohol, smoking and stress.

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Continued Diabetes Prevention

The ideas above are intended to offer various solutions while you are considering lifestyle changes for diabetes Type 1 and Type 2. You may also want to share these lifestyle modifications for diabetes with your family. Nutrition, physical activity and other healthy behaviors apply not only to diabetes prevention but also serve as proactive measures to avoid or manage many health conditions.

TIP: Try our plan finder if you are looking for a Medicare plan with diabetes coverage.

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