Many people who have Type 2 diabetes use medication to control high blood sugar levels. But although medication can play an important role in Type 2 diabetes management, it may be possible to lower blood sugar levels by making lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise.
If you have Type 2 diabetes, it means that your pancreas either doesn’t make enough of a hormone called insulin, which helps your body convert sugar in your bloodstream to energy, or your cells do not respond normally to insulin. As sugar builds up in your bloodstream, it causes high blood sugar.
Researchers aren’t sure why Type 2 diabetes causes these problems with the way your body processes sugar. However, being overweight or obese is the biggest risk factor for developing Type 2 diabetes. Having excess body fat in your abdomen, lack of physical activity, family history and age also increase your risk.
Eating a healthy diet that is centered on high-fiber, low-fat foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can help to control your blood sugar levels. That’s because many high-fiber foods have a low glycemic index, which means they help stabilize your blood sugar. Eating foods with a high glycemic index — such as animal products, processed foods, and sweets — can cause your blood sugar to rise quickly.
Regular physical activity will help to lower your blood sugar. You should try to get 30 minutes of aerobic exercise — such as walking, swimming or riding a bike — five days a week and do some type of resistance training a few days a week. Combining aerobic exercise with resistance training, such as weight-lifting or yoga, may help to control blood sugar better than doing either type of exercise by itself.
Diet and exercise also can work together to help you lose weight, which may help to move your blood sugar levels closer to the normal range. That’s because losing excess body fat can boost insulin production and/or help your body use insulin more effectively. If you are overweight or obese, losing 10 percent of your body weight may be enough to make a difference in your blood sugar levels.
Although some people can completely reverse Type 2 diabetes through diet, exercise and weight loss, it may not be possible for everyone. Even if you are unable to completely reverse Type 2 diabetes, you may be able to improve your blood sugar levels, cut back on your medications (with your primary care provider’s permission, of course) and reduce your risk of complications.
Before you start a diet and exercise program, it’s important to talk to your primary care provider.