Understanding your body and making healthy choices

How to make healthy choices for a healthy body

December, 2017

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With temptations around every corner, it can be hard to stick to healthy habits. It’s a challenge that most people face on a daily basis. Why do the unhealthy options always look so much more enticing? Why are “treats” just about EVERYWHERE? And if exercise is meant to make us feel good, why is it so hard to leave the comfort of the sofa?

Putting a positive spin on this, every temptation could be seen as an opportunity to take the healthier option. Because, let’s face it, the choices we make around diet and exercise directly affect our bodies, both in the moment, and particularly in the long-term. Maybe understanding more about how your body responds to these choices could help you make healthier decisions.

First, the scary bit. If diabetes is left uncontrolled, it can lead to damage in various parts of the body, especially the eyes, kidneys, nerves and cardiovascular system. Although it is common for people with diabetes to get some of these problems eventually, the good news is that you CAN do something to prevent them. If you maintain control of your diabetes and lead a healthy and active lifestyle, you could keep these diabetes complications at bay for decades.

Here is some information to help you understand the effects your lifestyle choices can have on your health.

Choosing to learn more

The more people understand about their diabetes, the better they are able to manage their condition and the better their quality of life. So choosing to learn more is a great start on your journey towards a better life filled with healthier choices.

Key things you need to understand: type 2 diabetes; monitoring your blood sugar; making lifestyle changes, and your medication. Your best source of information is your healthcare team. They know about your personal medical situation and can give you advice and answers to any questions you may have.

There are some immediate benefits to learning more about your diabetes. You can find answers to specific questions or put your mind at rest about a particular concern. Over time, as your knowledge grows, you will feel more confident about making positive choices in many aspects of managing your condition.

Choosing what to eat and drink

Did you know that type 2 diabetes was first noticed around 3000 years ago by the ancient Egyptians and Indians? They observed that the condition almost exclusively happened to rich people who consumed oil, flour and sugar in excessive amounts. So the knowledge that diet and diabetes are linked is as old as the condition itself.

What you eat is very important in managing your diabetes. Having a healthy diet is not only about the amount of food you eat, but also the type of food you eat. You may have been advised to limit refined sugars and foods like bread and fruit that release sugars when they are digested. Food high in fat is also a problem for people with diabetes. The more fat there is in the diet, the harder time insulin has in getting glucose into the cells. So, minimising fat intake and reducing your body fat will help insulin do its job much better. People who eat higher amounts of fruit and vegetables as part of a healthy diet are likely to have a reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes. It is thought that eating fruits and vegetables may even protect people from type 2 diabetes because they are rich in nutrients, fibre and antioxidants.

Try some great healthy recipes from our guide to easy food swaps.

Choosing healthy food or drink options can have an immediate effect, avoiding spikes or dips in your blood sugar levels. In the longer term, if you can make your healthy choices an automatic habit, your overall health will improve, making you look and feel better.

Choosing to be more active

Physical activity actually has a protective effect against type 2 diabetes. One reason for this is the belief that physical activity increases your body’s sensitivity to insulin. Because type 2 diabetes is a condition where your body is not as sensitive to insulin as it should be, this is a good thing. It means that the insulin naturally in your body, or insulin that you inject, can more easily do its job in regulating your blood sugar.

There are lots of choices available to help increase your physical activity. You don’t have to join a gym or go to an exercise class (although those are great options obviously!). Just by changing your daily routine you can incorporate exercise into your day. Walking is one of the best forms of exercise, provided you walk fast enough to raise your heart rate (which would mean you start to breathe faster). Small things like walking to the shop instead of driving, getting off the bus earlier than your stop, taking the stairs instead of the lift – these small changes can all make positive changes to your health and wellbeing if you do them regularly.

The important thing with increasing your level of physical activity is to find something you enjoy doing – do you like gardening or kicking a ball about with your children or grandchildren? All these activities increase your physical exertion. Whatever you do, finding something that you enjoy and that you can do regularly will help you to stick with it.

Getting your blood pumping during physical exercise can have an immediate effect because it actually helps your muscle cells absorb excess sugar from your blood. Being active physically also has a huge potential to enhance your well-being. Even a short burst of 10 minutes of brisk walking increases mental alertness, energy and positive mood.

In the longer term, the most obvious effect of regular exercise is that it reduces fat stored around your body. This is really helpful because intra-abdominal fat (fat stored around your middle), is a known risk factor for developing insulin resistance, and therefore type 2 diabetes.

Choosing to be smoke-free

If you are a smoker, quitting is the most powerful healthy choice that you can make. If you have diabetes, you already have an increased risk of developing a cardiovascular disease (e.g. a heart attack or stroke), and so the health benefits of going smoke-free are even greater. If you want to give up smoking, your GP can provide you with advice, support and treatment to help you quit. You can also visit this website to help you get started.

https://www.nhs.uk/smokefree

The benefits of stopping smoking start really quickly. From as early as two weeks after your last cigarette, your blood circulation and breathing improve. This will make all physical activity, including walking and running, much easier and probably more enjoyable. You may also find that your sense of taste and smell improve, which will make healthy food choices taste even better than before. In the longer term, you are likely to feel less stressed and, of course, you will have dramatically reduced your risk of lung cancer and other smoking-related diseases. Now that’s got to be something to feel good about.

Choosing to stay sober

Alcohol can cause either high or low blood glucose levels. It may also affect your ability to carry out insulin treatment or blood glucose monitoring. You don’t have to go teetotal if you don’t want to. Just be careful not to drink too much and never drink on an empty stomach. Men and women are advised not to regularly drink more than 14 units a week.

By avoiding overdoing it, you’ll see an immediate benefit – no hangovers or worries about whether you made a fool of yourself the night before. Having alcohol-free days will also help you to sleep better and have higher energy levels, which will help you to take more physical activity. In the longer term, cutting alcohol out, or staying within healthy limits, lowers your risk of getting liver disease and certain types of cancer.

Choosing to make your own choices

We are all faced with many choices every day and we don’t always get things “right”. It’s OK to take the less healthy option from time to time. By being more conscious of how your choices affect your health and well-being, you can be confident that you’re more likely to take the healthy option more often from now on.