By: Jean Jeffers
He is 89 years old and the picture of health. Yet looking at the robust, healthy, laughing gentleman sitting across the desk from me on this Saturday morning, one would never guess his age. Hank has been married 50 years, is active in his church, and hosts a prayer breakfast most Saturday mornings.
But this very active senior also has diabetes.
His diabetes began some 34 years ago. He now has a health team he consults with regularly, including an endocrinologist. At present, he takes two oral medications and is on a strict diet. He hasn’t always been so careful with his food plan, he says, but now realizes the value of strict adherence to drug and dietary guides, especially because of nerve damage to his feet. His last A1c was 8, and his doctors would like to get it down to 7.
“I am very conscious of my diabetes,” he says. To that end, Hank tries to follow a 13-step routine that can help him lead a healthier life. He knows that a healthy life is a happy life. Having practices in place that provide steps to health and happiness is important, particularly for diabetes. They are:
1. A healthy diet. Experts recommend limiting carb intake to 45 grams per meal and 15 grams at snacks. A diet rich in antioxidants from fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and a certain amount of protein is also on the list of recommendations. Switching to olive oil is a good practice, as well as substituting beans for some meat in the diet. Go extremely light on sugars and sweets, as well as starch.
2. Drink six to eight glasses of water each day. Decaffeinated tea is a great substitute for straight water.
3. Eight hours of restful sleep at night satisfies the need for rest and recovery. A cool, darkened room provides the best sleeping environment, and turning down the lights an hour before going to bed helps induce a sense of restfulness.
4.Walking, or doing some other form of aerobic exercise, for 30-45 minutes at least five days a week meets most recommended exercise needs. Many people find it helpful to use a pedometer and gradually increase their number of steps. If your healthcare team has recommended you lose weight, you may have to increase your exercise time to 60 minutes most days. The extra effort is worth it: Even a 5 percent decrease in your body weight can have a significant good effect on health.
5. For the person with diabetes, consistent oral care is very important to reduce the chances of infection. That includes daily brushing, flossing, and gum massage, as well as regular dental appointments.
6. Foot care is essential. Inspecting your feet daily and making regular visits to a podiatrist go a long way toward preventing foot trauma and infections.
7. Stable blood sugar within recommended guidelines is a priority. Be willing to undertake the necessary combination of drugs, diet, and exercise that can help you reach your A1c goals.
8. There are certain tests and numbers you should always keep in mind: A1c (your average blood sugar level over a three-month period); FBS (fasting blood sugar); LDL (low density lipids); HDL(high density lipids); and triglyceride levels. Your doctor will periodically order these tests to track your progress and identify problem areas. That’s why making and keeping regular doctor appointments are vital. These visits are occasions for you to discuss goals and concerns, and keep your diabetes management plan on track.
9. If you smoke, stop doing it immediately! This is a priority.
10. Having a quiet, neat, organized personal space makes for a better life. Take some time daily to de-stress-listen to music, or read, or simply relax and let your mind wander.
11. “Learn something new each day” is a good maxim to live by. It keeps you “in the game.” This is particularly important as you age and habits that become ingrained keep you from reaching out and enjoying new social contacts and stimuli.
12. Shower each day. Establish a morning routine of brushing your teeth and giving that important attention to your feet.
13. Make a conscious decision to spend some time helping others. Be kind and forgiving, because what goes around, comes around.
Following these steps leads toward a healthier, happier life, and reduces the chances of developing such diabetic complications as heart damage, retinopathy, and neuropathy. Hank has incorporated these steps in his life, and as a result has close, strong relationships and a greater sense of enjoyment. By making caring for his diabetes a daily part of his routine, he’s 89-year-old proof that life can be enjoyed at any age.
Jean Jeffers is an RN who lives in Cincinnati. She has written previously for Diabetes Health.