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How Diet, Sleep, and Exercise Can Affect Your Blood Sugar

How Diet, Sleep, and Exercise Can Affect Your Blood Sugar

Why this matters: Certain eating plans (like those made up of minimally processed and whole foods, like fruits, veggies, whole grains, and lean proteins) generally lead to steadier blood sugar levels, Dr. Weintraub says, while others (like those high in sugar, refined grains, and highly processed foods) can spike your blood sugar levels.

A food log that outlines what you eat gives your provider an idea of your diet’s macronutrient balance (protein, fat, and carbs), diversity (the variety of foods, and therefore micronutrients, you’re eating), and portion sizes (how much you’re eating in general), Dr. Nosova explains—all of which are important components of understanding your diabetes health. For example, you and your doctor might learn that your new habit of bringing a hearty salad to work three days a week has contributed to generally lower blood sugar, which can inspire you to keep this good thing going.

Pay attention to how much you move—and that doesn’t only have to include workouts.

Regular exercise can help lower your A1C by making your body more sensitive to insulin, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), so jot down movement in your log, too. A combination of cardio and strength training is a good bet, Dr. Weintraub says, because they support better blood sugars in different ways: Cardio helps lower your glucose levels (especially right after a meal)1, while strength training2 builds lean muscle mass—tissue that’s linked to regulating blood sugar, even when you’re not working out.

Dr. Weintraub recommends logging all types of movement—not just time spent in a gym. Taking the dog out, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, running around with kids, biking, walking to work—every little bit counts. If that sounds like a lot to keep track of, don’t sweat it: You can take a couple of minutes at the end of the day to mentally review all the ways you moved your body and roughly estimate it. And if you wear a fitness tracker (like a Garmin, FitBit, or Apple Watch) or have a pedometer on your smartphone, those tools can help you, too.

With all of that in place: A movement log might, for example, show you and your doctor that your regular after-dinner neighborhood strolls or twice-weekly weightlifting sessions might have something to do with a dip in your A1C. Or, if you come in with a higher A1C than last time, you and your team may be able to pin that to your putting your usual Pilates classes on the backburner during a busy time at work. That could in turn lead to a conversation about how, for instance, a 20-minute walk after breakfast is both more realistic and effective for your schedule.

Keep an eye on sleep—not just how much of it you’re getting, but how it’s making you feel in the morning.

Getting solid rest is crucial for everybody’s health, but qualitysleep is extra-important for people with diabetes. Knowing whether or not you’re getting the recommended seven to nine hours each night is “incredibly helpful” for you and your doctor, Dr. Weintraub says, given that getting less sleep often has a negative ripple effect on diabetes health. (One 2017 meta-analysis of 15 studies found that poor sleep quality was associated with an increased A1C.3) Why? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), sleep issues can lead to insulin resistance (this is when your cells don’t respond to insulin as well; it’s the opposite of insulin sensitivity), the urge to reach for carb-y foods that can spike your blood sugar, and a dip in your mental health4, among other things. It’s not a shocker that any of these things, on their own or together, can majorly play into how your type 2 diabetes affects you on a daily level: Stress, nutrition, and blood sugar levels are all big parts of feeling good with this condition (or, when they’re out of whack, less good). And, of course, helping your body respond well to insulin, eating well, and feeling steady mentally are all factors that majorly support your diabetes health over time, too.

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