Healthy living with diabetes

If you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes, you will need to pay special attention to certain aspects of your health and lifestyle.

If you have diabetes, you should have regular eye tests. Watch a video about diabetic retinopathy

Diabetes doesn't have to stop you from leading the life you want. Nor does it mean you'll necessarily have other serious health problems in the future.

With careful management you can control the condition, rather than the condition controlling you. This will allow you to stay healthy, active and live a full life.

Without taking these measures, you are putting yourself at an increased risk of health problems, which could force you to change your lifestyle entirely.

Structured education programmes can teach you more about managing diabetes. Learn more about diabetes education.

After diagnosis

When you were diagnosed, you should have been assigned to a diabetes care team, who will have explained the most important aspects of managing your condition.

You may also have learnt to monitor your blood glucose (sugar) level regularly, and to understand how it is affected by food and exercise.

If you need help to keep your blood glucose level stable, you may have been prescribed diabetes medication, or insulin to inject.

To stay well, it's important to use these aspects of your treatment properly. However, it's also important that you take other steps to help manage the condition and lower your risk of further health problems.

Learning to manage your diabetes takes time, patience and effort. You may also be coping with difficult emotions after your diagnosis, such as anger, confusion or depression.

Diabetes health risks

Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes put you at increased risk of:

Healthy living with diabetes

However, there are many things you can do to minimise your risk of these problems.

Firstly, it's important that you take your insulin and other medicines properly.

As well as taking your medicines or insulin, there are a few key steps you can take to prevent or delay the health complications associated with diabetes: 

  • Lose weight if you are overweight or obese. This will help control your blood glucose level, as well as your blood pressure and cholesterol. 
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet that’s low in fat, salt and sugar. This doesn’t mean you can never eat biscuits or cakes again, but try to eat sugary and fatty foods in moderation.
  • Don’t smoke. If you smoke, there's plenty of support available to help you stop. Smoking increases your risk of heart disease and stroke even further.
  • Get active for at least 30 minutes a day, five times a week. This helps you stay at a healthy weight and maintain good general health. It doesn’t have to be the gym: there are plenty of other ways to keep active, such as playing with your kids, gardening, or any activity that gently raises your heart rate.
  • Check your feet every day. The nerve damage that can occur in diabetes most commonly affects feet. Read more about diabetes and foot health.
  • Keep your appointments with your diabetes care team. Regular check-ups once every three months are an important part of managing your diabetes.

Go on a diabetes education course

It's important for anyone who has diabetes to learn how to manage the condition. Short courses, such as DAFNE (Dose Adjustment for Normal Eating) for type 1 diabetes and DESMOND (Diabetes Education and Self Management for Ongoing and Newly Diagnosed) for type 2 diabetes, may help.

If you have diabetes and you haven't yet attended an education programme, talk to your GP or diabetes care team, as they can refer you to a local one.

Research has found that even very brief educational courses, provided they are well structured and of good quality, can lead to a prolonged improvement in symptoms, better controlled blood glucose levels and a reduced risk of complications.

Find diabetes information and support services near you.

Diabetes and eyesight

Blood vessels in the retina of your eye can bleed, become leaky or grow haphazardly. This can prevent light being detected on the retina or even reaching your retina. If left untreated, it can damage your vision. In this video, an expert explains how diabetes can affect your vision and the possible treatments for it.

Media last reviewed: 14/07/2015

Next review due: 14/07/2017

Page last reviewed: 29/09/2014

Next review due: 29/09/2016


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The 5 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Lowcarber said on 20 September 2012

I agree we must somehow persuade professionals to look at the great success and health achieved by diabetics through low carb eating. We have a situation with someone in our family in hospital at present after heart surgery, being fed lots of cheap carbs like cornflakes,bread and pancakes and high sugar/high carb fruit juice! He is being advised to eat this when he goes home. Not surprisingly they cannot yet get his blood sugars under control. NHS professionals are unreachable and don't want to listen anyway. Apparenlty the studies they have carried out or studied have too many carbs to actually be low carb so they have false, misleading info!

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Sallyinthealley said on 23 June 2012

My husband is 57 has had type2 for several years now. He is obese,has macular degeneration of his eyes, but a more recent manifestation is his alarming mood swings. One minute he'll be fine, then in a blink of an eye, distracted, contrary, can't/won't hold a conversation,almost withdrawn. Can anyone help me with this please? How do I deal with this? It's very scarey. I wonder if he is being handled properly for his insulin usage?

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Micsek said on 07 December 2011

My research on this subject is loud and clear; "In the UK and USA this condition is treated in a lazy manner, by GPs throughing drugs at it.".
I am also one of these victims. I find that information is generally confusing and a dogmatic response is usually given by professionals when questioning the logic of the statements made.

I have never had any of the physical symptoms listed for this condition and having been diagnosed end of Feb 2009, I still do not have any. My blood sugar never was above 8, what ever that means, with or without medication.
As a result of the diagnosis I did alter my eating habits.
I stopped the consumption of milk (breakfast cerials) having juiced vegetables instead: 1 large carrot, 2 sticks of cellery, a 4" length of cucumber, 2 small apples, ½ of a large head of broccoli, 1 lemon, 1 lime in to this I mix 1 tsp of finugreek powder, 1 tsp ground cinnemon, 1 tsp spirulina, 1tsp of wheatgrass. I have this 6 days a week. I lost 18 kg in a few weeks and kept if off (nerver been much over weight). Otherwise I eat as I always have. Home prepared meals from basic ingredients. Never processed stuff.
I would like some learned comment!

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Helen M W said on 11 May 2011

I was diagonsed with Type 2 Diabetes in November and given expert advice by the GP, the practice nurse, and the dietician. I followed the advice carefully - paying particular notice of the advice from the dietician. I had a perfectly healthy diet already - just too large porions of everything, and eating too much at the three meals. I learned to have smaller meals with snacks mid morning and afternoon. But she said if I could commit myself to regular exercise that would be the key for me. And it was! I have lost 8 kilos, my blood sugar level is now normal as is my cholesterol and my blood pressure. I have found the gym helpful, and motivating oneself to go for a walk is difficult, so I have joined a Nordic walking group. I feel so much better and healthier - and I still use good old butter on my wholemeal bread - and I am 70, so I hope others will learn the good effect of very regular exercise, and the importance of the 5 a day rule too.

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Camels Toe said on 05 May 2011

Low in sugar yes but you must realise that to the body a bag of flour is treated like a bag of sugar. I thought you would at least recommend a low GI or low carb diet for people with diabetes but as usual the rubbish about low fat is trumpeted. You have taken the conventional wisdom and swallowed it whole. It is time for people to start questioning things because the current advice on regulating blood sugar is clearly not working. A low fat diet invariably means one that is high in carbs and too many starchy carbs have a detrimental effect on blood sugar. Fat however does not have that effect and the link with high cholesterol is unproven or indeed the idea that high cholesterol actually causes any health problems is actually unproven. Low cholesterol is linked with depression. Could this be something worth investigating or are we too scared to admit we may be wrong about cholesterol and would rather hold tight to what we think we know?

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