How Can You Observe National Diabetes Awareness Month

Investing in Your Own Health Can Make a Huge Impact

November is National Diabetes Awareness Month, a month where people come together to raise awareness and attention to diabetes. Diabetes affects people of all walks of life and of all ages.

An estimated 30.3 million people in the United States, or 9.4% of the population, have diabetes, and an estimated 84.1 million Americans aged 18 years or older have prediabetes.

Diabetes is also one of the most common chronic conditions in school-age youth in the United States. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease suggests that roughly 193,000 youth under the age of 20 years old have diabetes.

No matter what age you are or what type of diabetes you have, investing in your health can not only help to raise awareness but can have a huge impact on preventing, managing, and living a full life with diabetes.

Diabetes Awareness Month
Yuliya Baranych/ istock/ Getty Images Plus

Small Steps for Healthy Habits

Diabetes can be an overwhelming disease because there is so much to think about on a daily basis: did you take your medicine, is it time to check your blood sugar, what will you eat today, did you exercise enough, why is your blood sugar elevated? It's important to try not to get overwhelmed and manage one task at a time.

And if you need help, ask for it. Whether it be asking a family member to help with the kids while you prep dinner, calling a friend to go for a walk, or reaching out to a diabetes organization so that you can connect with someone in your situation, it's important to find support.

Below you'll find some simple, yet highly effective ways that you can invest in your health or the health of a loved one to make your life just a little bit simpler, happier, and healthier.

Eat More Plants

Higher intakes of vegetables, whole-grains, legumes, and nuts have been associated with a substantially lower risk of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes and improved glycemic control in either normal or insulin-resistant individuals.

A meta-analysis published in the Journal of Diabetes Investigation concluded that a higher intake of fruit, especially berries, and green leafy vegetables, yellow vegetables, cruciferous vegetables, or their fiber is associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes.

A study published in 2020 in the British Medical Journal found that increasing vegetable intake by about 1/2 cup per day can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by 25%. Other studies have shown a reduced rate of inflammation in people with type 1 diabetes who eat high fiber diets (more than 30 grams daily).

Plant based foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and seeds are rich sources of fiber. We also know that fiber can help to reduce cholesterol, promote feelings of fullness, and prevent blood sugar excursions (highs and lows). If you don't eat many plants, aim to start slowly, one meal at a time.

Most adults should consume about 1.5 to 2 cups of fruit per day and 2 to 3 cups of vegetables per day, yet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that only 1 in 10 adults are eating enough.

Keep in mind, the number of servings of fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds will vary based on your age, activity level, and hunger. Kids need to consume less than adults. Some tips for getting in more plants include:

  • Add 1/2 to 1 cup serving of berries (strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries) to your oatmeal, toast, yogurt, or smoothie in the morning.
  • Add 1 cup raw or 1/2 cup cooked vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, kale, squash, zucchini, or cauliflower to your salad, soup, or whole grain wrap for lunch.
  • Snack on an apple, pear, or citrus fruit with a tablespoon of nut butter or a handful of unsalted nuts or cut up some fresh crudité—carrots, peppers, celery, or broccoli, and pair it with a tablespoon or two of hummus or guacamole.
  • Make one night a week a meatless night and serve up some grain bowls using 1 cup of whole grain such as quinoa, barley, bulgur, farro, or brown rice. Add your favorite vegetables, herbs, and seasonings.
  • Swap your dessert with fresh fruit, such as 1 cup of melon or frozen berries.

Colorful Fruit or Veggie of the Week

Have your children choose one colorful fruit or vegetable for the week and use that in a rotating menu to reduce food waste, increase nutrition, and simplify decision fatigue.

For example, if your child chooses sweet potatoes and mangos, you can make sweet potato fries, baked sweet potato, or roasted sweet potatoes. Add some chopped mango to yogurt, blend it in a smoothie, or snack on it by itself.

Meal Prep for the Week

Reduce your sodium intake by preparing meals for the week. Frozen prepared foods and take-out can often be rich in sodium. A diet rich in sodium can increase blood pressure and lead to hypertension.

People with diabetes or at risk for diabetes are at an increased risk of hypertension, particularly if they don't adhere to certain lifestyle modifications such as maintaining a healthy weight, reducing sodium intake, exercise, and smoking cessation.

According to a study published in the Journal of Food Composition and Analysis, regular menu items have an average of 2,196 milligrams of sodium per 1,000 calories and children’s menu items had 1,865 milligrams per 1,000 calories.

The American Heart Association recommends that most adults consume no more than 1,500 mg of sodium a day and federal dietary guidelines currently recommend no more than 2,300 mg of sodium daily (equivalent to about 1 teaspoon of salt).

If you are eating out often or taking home food a few times per week, the sodium counts can really add up; as restaurants account for about 25% of of excess sodium intake.

Doing a meal preparation day or a batch cooking day where you make larger amounts of food once a week can help to reduce sodium at home because you are in control of the ingredients. Great batch cooking foods include whole grains, legumes, roasted vegetables, dips like hummus and guacamole or yogurt dips, and homemade salad dressings.

These foods are great to have on hand to add to egg dishes, grain dishes, salads, soups, or side dishes. Consider allocating about one hour or so to do some meal preparation on the weekends so that you are equipped to make better choices during the week.

You'll not only reduce the amount of sodium you are eating, you will probably feel more energized and if weight loss is a goal for you, that is possible, too. Lastly, you will have less stress because you will have your meals planned for a few days a week.

Take Work Breaks

Many people began to work from home with the 2020 pandemic. You may find that eliminating your commute means you are spending more time sitting down and working. While your employer probably isn't complaining, too much sitting is not good for your health.

In fact, researchers have found that sedentary behavior (no matter what length of time) is particularly harmful to those people who do not participate in physical activity.

Experimental studies that mimicked sedentary behavior in a laboratory setting have also provided evidence of greater postprandial (after meal) glucose and insulin levels during bouts of prolonged sitting (i.e., seven hours) compared with individuals taking frequent standing or walking breaks.

As hard as it may be, aim to block out 30 minutes once a day for exercise, walking, or other physical activities. If it's just impossible to do this every day, try to do it a few times a week. Or you can aim to simply get out of your chair every 30 minutes to an hour to stretch and march in place.

The key is to refrain from sitting for extended periods of time. Taking breaks can mean a happier and more productive you. It's a win for you and your employer.

Find a Type of Exercise You Love

Exercise is a huge part of blood sugar management as well as overall health in people with diabetes and prediabetes. Most people have heard this already, but that doesn't always mean they are incorporating more exercise into their lives.

Oftentimes the reluctance is time-related or due to the sheer fact that they haven't found something that they enjoy. How can you be motivated to exercise if you hate what you are doing?

Now to make things more complicated, many gyms are functioning at reduced capacity, requiring those who show up to wear masks, and understandably some people may not be comfortable doing that. Now you really need to get creative, but perhaps this can help you engage in activities that you truly enjoy.

Sustainable healthy habits like exercise occur when you enjoy what you are doing. This month, encourage yourself to do something you truly love. Or even better, do something you love with someone you love.

Schedule exercise into your day as you would any other meeting. Consider going for a walk with your bestie or fur baby before or after work, sign up for a virtual race in your community, or an on-demand exercise streaming service that offers fun classes like boxing.

If weather permits, go for or a family hike or bike ride, jump on the trampoline (if you have one), set up an obstacle course, play a game of tag, or turn on your favorite music and dance until you sweat.

Go to Sleep an Hour Earlier

There is epidemiologic evidence that shows an association between shorter sleep and the prevalence or incidence of diabetes mellitus and/or obesity. In fact, researchers have found that higher rates of type 2 diabetes in individuals who get less than six hours of sleep.

National sleep guidelines advise that healthy adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep per night. People over 65 should also get seven to eight hours per night. Babies, young children, and teens need even more sleep to enable their growth and development.

It may seem impossible to get this much sleep, especially if you have to log on to work after getting your family to rest or if you work nights. But, don't be discouraged. This information is not meant to overwhelm or add another thing to your already explosive to-do list, rather to remind you or make you aware of how important sleep is.

Even if you can add one more hour to your nightly regimen or 30 minutes at night and 30 minutes in the morning, you will reap the benefits. Set a goal for yourself to try to go bed around the same time every night.

If you wake up in the morning feeling as if you need a ton of coffee to wake up or that you can go back to sleep in the next hour or so, odds are you are not getting enough sleep.

Simplify Your Regimen

If your diabetes regimen is too complicated and you feel like you are always forgetting to take your medication or you can't seem to understand how to work your blood glucose meter, then you'd benefit from having a professional help you to simplify things.

Simplifying a diabetes regimen may mean that instead of taking multiple pills a day, your doctor can prescribe you an oral medication that has both medicines combined into one pill.

Or perhaps you need help with your diabetes supplies. Instead of having multiple prescriptions from different pharmacies and distributors, you may be able to have your diabetes supplies delivered to your home.

Simplifying your diabetes regimen will reduce stress, improve your diabetes control, and leave more time for other healthy behaviors, such as exercise and meal planning. Another way to make your diabetes less chaotic and frenetic is to get your diabetes organized.

How can you organize your diabetes better? There is an amazing book written by Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialists that help you do just that: The Complete Diabetes Organizer. Consider purchasing this book to help you simplify your regimen.

Check out New Technology

Diabetes technology has made so many advances to improve and simplify the lives of people with diabetes. However, because technology can change so rapidly, some people may find technology too overwhelming and burdensome, and subsequently are not receiving the full benefit.

The American Diabetes Association defines diabetes technology as hardware, devices, and software that people with diabetes use to help manage blood glucose levels, stave off diabetes complications, reduce the burden of living with diabetes, and improve quality of life.

When applied appropriately, diabetes technology can assist those with diabetes in simplifying their daily tasks. For example, people or parents of children with type 1 diabetes may sleep easier at night if their child uses an insulin pump that makes automatic basal insulin adjustments at night which can help to prevent high and low blood sugars.

Smart devices such as smart insulin pens can be programmed to calculate insulin doses and provide downloadable data reports to share with your medical team. These reports can assist professionals in making insulin adjustments and other necessary changes to improve blood sugar control.

Newer insulin pens also vary with respect to dosing increment and minimal dose, which can range from half-unit doses (for those who need less insulin) to 2-unit dose increments, which can help with fine-tuning insulin doses.

Apps to manage blood sugars by calculating insulin doses, and carbohydrate counting are also available. Smart meters, such as Livongo, allow for unlimited blood glucose testing, communication, and coaching from your medical team.

Continuous glucose monitors (CGM) can help to track blood sugar trends and alert those with diabetes when their blood sugar is going up and down so that they can make insulin adjustments.

The FreeStyle Libre System (a newer CGM) can produce real-time blood glucose readings every minute which you can check by scanning the sensor with a smartphone app or reader. This doesn't replace finger sticks altogether but greatly reduces them.

Insulin pumps eliminated multiple daily injections, and when used appropriately can improve blood sugar control by allowing for very specific insulin dose adjustments throughout the day.

Hybrid closed loop (otherwise referred to as an artificial pancreas) models can automatically adjust insulin levels based on continuous glucose monitor readings.

Many of these wearable technologies are also waterproof and can provide the user with a large amount of data. If you have diabetes and are interested in new technology, discuss your options with your medical team. You will also want to contact your insurance to see what you are eligible for and how much out of pocket expenses you'll incur.

Make Mental Health a Priority

Life can be hard and stressful for anyone; add diabetes to the mix and day-to-day life can be extremely overwhelming at times. According to the CDC untreated mental health issues can make diabetes worse, and problems with diabetes can make mental health issues worse.

But fortunately if one gets better, the other tends to get better, too. It is estimated that people with diabetes are 2 to 3 times more likely to have depression than people without diabetes and that only 25% to 50% of people with diabetes who have depression get diagnosed and treated.

Depression is serious and should be addressed right away by a medical professional. If you are experiencing symptoms of depression such as feeling sad or empty, losing interest in your favorite activities, having difficulty eating or sleeping, or feel hopeless, irritable, anxious, or guilty regularly then you should reach out to your healthcare team immediately.

If you aren't feeling depressed, but are instead feeling burnt out from your own diabetes or taking care of a loved one, understand that it's okay to feel this way and that you need support. Getting support is important.

Consider calling your insurance to find out your options for a mental health professional, reach out to your healthcare team for advice or reach out to a diabetes organization for support. Teaming up with someone else who knows what you are going can make the world of a difference.

Meet With a Diabetes Specialist

Whether you've had diabetes for a long time, have been recently diagnosed with diabetes or prediabetes, you will benefit from meeting with a Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist (CDCES).

Consider a CDCES your personal diabetes cheerleader who can help you to manage your diabetes by providing nutrition and medication advice, coordinating appointments, educating you on foot care, how to properly store insulin, where to inject insulin, and the best absorption rates, to name a few.

According to the Association of Diabetes Care and Education Specialists, diabetes self-management education may lower the risk of diabetes complications as well as decrease costs. It does this by reducing or eliminating medications, emergency rooms visits and helping people access cost-savings programs.

Contact your insurance provider to see if diabetes education is covered so that you may receive self-management education today. It is covered by Medicare and most healthcare plans.

Give Yourself a Pat on the Back

Acknowledge the challenges that come with diabetes so that you may have permission to applaud yourself for all of your hard work. Take the time to recognize the things you have done and not what you didn't do.

It's OK to have a blood sugar that is out of range from time to time. And if you are a parent to a child with diabetes or are taking care of a loved one with diabetes, applaud yourself for all of your hard work and aim to refrain from feeling guilty when things aren't perfect.

A Word From Verywell

Diabetes affects people of all ages, professions, races, and ethnicities. It is important to take the time to acknowledge diabetes and all of the factors that can influence the disease.

During Diabetes Awareness Month, take the challenge of investing in small, simple changes that can heavily impact the health and well-being of yourself or your loved one. Regardless of what type of diabetes you have and what your journey with it has looked like, it is never too late make some changes.

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Article Sources
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