You can make your type 2 diabetes medicines work better if you take steps now. You might even be able to lower how much or how many drugs you take — or stop them altogether.
Many people might be able to control their diabetes with lifestyle changes alone, says Richard Siegel, MD. He’s the co-director of the Diabetes Center at Tufts Medical Center in Boston.
Healthy lifestyle changes you can make include:
Diabetes drugs help your body balance insulin (which helps control blood sugar) and blood sugar levels. But you have to change your lifestyle to make them work properly, says Scott Isaacs, MD. He’s an endocrinologist in Atlanta.
“All diabetes medications are approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in combination with diet and exercise. Drugs are not a substitute for diet and exercise,” he says.
It’s never too late to work with your doctor to create an overall treatment and lifestyle plan to help you manage your blood sugar and weight.
Most people can either get the dosages of their drugs lowered or, with their doctor’s OK, stop taking them by dropping extra pounds, Isaacs says.
“Just to be able to limit the amount of diabetes medications you take is a good thing,” he says. “Losing only 5% of your body weight is enough to make a difference, and create a good chance that you can lower your medication dosage.”
You should aim for a healthy, balanced diet rich in fresh, low-fat foods that are high in fiber, Siegel says.
“A healthy diet is well-balanced and includes lean proteins from both animal and vegetarian sources, fruits, vegetables, and nuts,” he says. “Carbohydrates are the component of the diet which have the most significant effect on your blood sugars. Limiting or avoiding added sugars and refined flours can help to keep blood sugars controlled without cutting out healthier carbohydrates such as legumes [beans] and whole grains.”
Eat about 25 to 35 grams of fiber each day to help keep your blood sugar levels steady, says Isaacs. Fiber can help you feel full longer, so you might not get hungry soon after eating. Eat fiber from natural foods like beans or whole grains rather than taking supplements, he says.
Physical activity is just as important as drugs to help you manage your diabetes, Siegel says.
When you move and rev up your heart rate and sweat, it will help you burn extra fat and lose weight.
“Exercise should be considered a ‘prescription,’” says Siegel.
Your exercise prescription should include:
Regular exercise will build stronger muscles, burn extra fat, and help your diabetes drugs work better, Isaacs says.
“Muscle is important. Having more lean muscle mass will improve how well your body processes blood sugar,” he says. He recommends weight training for a total of 1 hour (or more) per week to help you build more muscle mass.
Get more winks, since it might help you keep your blood sugar levels in check. People who don’t get enough sleep, or whose sleep is disrupted often during the night due to sleep apnea, often have problems with their metabolism, especially in type 2 diabetes, says Isaacs. Poor sleep can also make you want to eat more during the day to boost your energy, he says.
“Seven to 8 hours of good-quality sleep may also help to reduce your blood sugars and cardiovascular [heart] risk by lowering some of the body’s hormones,” Siegel says.
Stress and anxiety can make it hard to sleep at night, and they might affect your diabetes, too.
If you have long-lasting stress from work or family problems, your body might make too many stress hormones, like cortisol. Cortisol tells your body to store more blood sugar and fat.
Stress can make your body block its production of insulin, too, making it harder for your drugs to work properly.
When you lower your stress, the drop in cortisol might help your blood sugar levels, Siegel says.
Find ways to relax. Exercise is one way to control stress and sleep better. You might also try relaxation techniques like meditation.
Follow your treatment plan: Take your diabetes drugs as prescribed, manage your diet and weight, exercise regularly, and manage your stress, Siegel says. Your diabetes drugs will work better.
If you have type 2 diabetes, your doctor might add medications to your treatment plan when lifestyle changes aren’t enough to keep your blood sugar levels at your person goal, he says. Even when that happens, keep up your healthy habits, because that can help limit the amount of medication you need.