Taking steps to improve your health is always a good idea. But it’s vital when you have a serious health problem like diabetes.

Learn to put your health first by paying special attention to the things that will influence your health the most. That can help you avoid the most serious problems faced by the 30 million people who live with diabetes. Those include increased chances of heart attack, stroke, nerve damage, and eye and kidney issues.

These five tips may help get you started.

1. Take Care of Yourself Each Day

Keep on top of the small things. Taking your medicine or insulin every day doesn’t sound hard. But people get busy. They get distracted and they forget. Yet it’s the most important thing to do. Find a way that works for you to remind yourself about this step.

Keep an eye on your blood pressure, cholesterol levels and other key health measures. Don’t give problems a chance to build. Diabetic complications often start out with a small change that can easily get out of control.

For example, checking your feet each day could save you from serious complications. Your feet might tingle or feel numb from nerve damage. Pay attention to how they feel. And a daily check might catch a sore that isn’t healing.

2. Look at What You’re Eating

There’s a lot of confusion about what to eat, said Dr. Ana Rodriguez-Lopez, a family doctor and Blue Cross and Blue Shield Plan medical director.

It’s especially important to not skip meals, she said. Medications are given to regulate blood sugar levels all day. The amount and timing of your medicines is based on eating throughout the day.

Eat a variety of foods. Look for foods high in fiber and low in fat, sugar and salt. Limit carbs to healthy ones like whole grain breads, brown rice and quinoa. Fruits and vegetables are good choices. But instead of eating fruit by itself, have it as a part of a meal with whole grains and protein.

3. Exercise Each Day

But don’t overthink it. Don’t focus on finding time to work out for 30 minutes every day. That can be daunting.

Instead, try thinking of a way to move for 10 minutes in the morning, and again twice later in the day. Walking in place is a good choice if you can’t get outside. Try taking the stairs. Take a couple extra laps around the store when grocery shopping. Get a step counter and make a goal to keep increasing your numbers. It’s fine to start small. It all adds up.

4. Watch Your Weight

This is critical. Maintaining a healthy weight helps the body use insulin better and more effectively. The benefits to your health are worth the effort of staying at a healthy weight.

Talk to your doctor about what your healthy weight range is. If your weight is at a good place, try to maintain it by continuing to eat right and exercise. And if you need to lose some weight, take steps to do that. Explore healthy eating plans. Some weight loss programs have plans designed especially for people with diabetes.

5. Talk to Your Doctor

Your primary care doctor is there to help. But you need to reach out, and you must be honest. Tell your doctor if you:

  • Are feeling stressed or depressed
  • Need help with your diet plan
  • Are feeling side effects from your medicine
  • Are having trouble paying for your medicine

Level with your doctor. And don’t wait. “We worry when patients skip meals and skip drug doses,” Rodriguez-Lopez said. “But if your doctor doesn’t know, they can’t help you. It’s important to bring it up.”

Talk to your doctor about your A1C test, which shows average blood sugar levels over the previous three months. It shows how well your diabetes is controlled. Not everyone knows their A1C number or grasps what it means. You may think your sugars are under control because you look at one daily blood sugar check taken at the same time of the day. However, if you don’t happen to be testing at a time of day when your blood sugar level is high, you may not get the whole picture. That’s why the A1C test is important — it does show the whole picture.

icon_balanced_dietDo your best for yourself.

You are the most important part of your health care team. You know how you feel and what you’re able to do each day to take care of your health. Work with your doctor to create a plan for improving your health that you can live with — and stick to it.