If you have diabetes, you’re no stranger to testing your blood sugar levels. You wake up, you test. You’re going to sleep, you test. You eat, you test. You workout, you test. And while all of those finger pricks can be an uncomfortable and inconvenient nuisance, they provide a real-time look at what your numbers look like, which arms you with the ability to make important decisions about your diabetes management. And while all of that testing is crucial, it’s also imperative that you (and your health care team) have big-picture idea of what your levels look like.
This is where the hemoglobin A1C (or A1C, for short) comes in. The blood test, which is typically performed four times a year, offers insight into how well a patient’s blood glucose levels have been controlled over the previous three months. Why is that important? Because it helps determine whether an individual’s management plan has been effectively treating their diabetes. If the results of an individual’s A1C depict a story of poorly controlled levels (a normal A1C level is below 5.7 percent), it’s probably time to make some adjustments to your plan.
Whether you’re preparing for your first A1C test or your 100th, we want to offer you some tips and tricks for improving your results!
Take a look!
1. Get Moving
Exercise is crucial to making long-term changes in your glucose control. While incorporating exercise into your management plan might seem like a tedious task, it can actually be as simple as making small changes that allow you to sneak in at least 150 minutes of exercise a week. That number might seem high, but really it amounts to 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. And if you can’t reserve 30 minutes at a time, you can even break that 30 minutes down into chunks of 10 minutes or more.
In addition to helping you gain tighter control of your blood sugar levels, exercise is a great way to alleviate stress, boost your mood, improve cognitive function, and improve overall health!
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2. Make Small Changes to Your Diet
We know, we know. You already know that diet is important to diabetes management. However, wading through the deep pool of bogus diet claims and promises for “miracle diabetes cures” can be tough. The truth is, there is no quick-fix. Instead, try to make small, sustainable improvements. If you don’t know where to start, begin tracking your body’s reaction to what you eat. Keep a journal and try to recognize patterns. Ask yourself which foods are consistently making your blood sugar spike.
Remember to focus on moderation, not deprivation. A diabetic diet typically doesn’t mean you have to deprive yourself of all of your favorite foods for the rest of your life. It simply means that, for the most part, you should focus on maintaining a healthy, well-balanced diet, and that less-than-healthy food should be consumed in moderation. Just make sure you have a healthy understanding of “moderation.” If you consider moderation to be eating junk food once a day, and that’s reflected in your numbers, you might need to adjust your definition.
3. Make a Schedule and Stick to It
Consistency is vital to effective management. For starters, your medication is most effective when taken as directed, which includes the time you take it. If you set up a schedule for eating, exercising, and taking your medication (for example), you’re more likely to stick to it.
Establishing a routine will also help you avoid falling into bad habits like skipping meals and/or workouts.
4. Keep a Journal
We mentioned recording what you eat, and while that’s great for establishing patterns that can help you determine where diet modifications are necessary, it’s only the beginning. Why? Because there are so many additional factors that can affect your numbers. Stress, lack of sleep, and exercise, for example, can all have a big impact on your number.
Consider recording things like how you’re feeling, how you slept, and what your day looks like. You might begin to see some telling patterns that will allow you to make additional tweaks to your routine.
5. Find a Way to Relieve Stress
Often referred to as the “stress hormone,” cortisol regulates the body’s responses to stress. Responsible for the fight-or-flight response, cortisol causes the body to release energy in the form of glucose. If you find yourself consistently stressed, this can wreak havoc on your numbers. Further, prolonged elevated levels of cortisol are also associated with weight gain, increased belly fat, insulin resistance, and blood sugar metabolism.
Fortunately, there are some things you can do to alleviate stress. Consider talking to a friend, loved one, or professional about the things that are causing you stress, setting aside time for relaxation, or taking up a new hobby!
6. Ask for Help
Diabetes is a complex condition. It can be an overwhelming and confusing burden. But you don’t have to do it alone. If you’re struggling to control your blood glucose levels, try reaching out. For instance, if it’s your meal plan that’s posing the obstacle, your family might be able to help get you back on track by cleaning up their own eating habits in a show of support.
Don’t forget that your health care team should be a lifeline. When you’re frustrated, confused, or feeling especially challenged, they can help. In addition to medical guidance, they can offer you resources that could be the extra boost you need to get where you need to be.
L.D. and her eleven-year-old lab, Eleanor Rigby Fitzgerald, moved from Seattle to Grand Rapids earlier this year, and are currently enjoying exploring their new city! She likes books, music, movies, running, and being outdoors as much as possible.