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Importance of healthy lifestyle to lower HbA1c levels in Diabetes

DiabetesEarly detection and diagnosis is very important in the management of diabetes. (Photo source: Reuters)

By Dr. Vandana Juneja, Lifestyle Expert Coach, GOQii

Diabetes has become a major healthcare problem in India with over 80 million people suffering from this disease. Most are not aware of the disease and several questions such as – will this last forever, is it reversible, how can I overcome this disease, etc. surface from time to time. I can assure you that Diabetes is not a death sentence. You can reverse your condition with positive, healthy lifestyle changes and live a fulfilling life.

Diabetes is a group of metabolic disorders characterized by increased blood sugar levels over a prolonged period of time. If untreated or not managed well, diabetes can lead to severe health complications including nerve damage, cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, damage to the eyes and even stroke.

Early detection and diagnosis is very important in the management of diabetes. The following tests are used for diagnosis of diabetes:

Fasting blood plasma glucose test – FBG

Oral glucose tolerance test – OGTT

Random plasma glucose test

Haemoglobin A1c test – HbA1c

HbA1c stands for a glycated or glycosylated haemoglobin test that helps measure average blood sugar levels for the past 3 months. This test is essential for every person who has diabetes.

Why is HbA1c important?

Though the fasting and post meal blood glucose tests are also important, these can only measure your sugar levels at a certain point of time and may vary depending on what you have eaten over the last night or in the previous meal. However, the HbA1c test looks at the last 3 months data and is more accurate. These levels tell us how well the body is maintaining the blood glucose levels.

Why is it important to lower your HbA1c levels?

Many studies have shown that lowering HbA1c levels can help slow the progression of the disease and also reduce the risk of the health complications that are associated with diabetes.

HbA1c Results may be as follows:

Normal/ Healthy: Below 5.7%

Pre-diabetes: 5.7–6.4%

Diabetes: 6.5% or more

A healthy individual should target an HbA1c score of below 5.7%. If diagnosed with diabetes, different people will have different targets based on various factors. But in general, one must aim to keep their levels as close to the normal range as possible or at least below 7%.

Lifestyle changes required to lower HbA1c levels

Lifestyle management, along with pharmacological intervention, is the key approach to effective diabetes management. At GOQii, a coach helps you lead a healthier lifestyle, by making gradual, simple yet effective changes in an individual’s routine, which ultimately helps you to lower his/her blood sugar levels and manage or even reverse your diabetes.

For instance, a GOQii user Deepak Sampat managed to lower his HbA1c levels from 7.5 to 6.2 and reduce his weight from 85kg to 78kg within 2 months of joining GOQii. He has been successfully managing diabetes with simple lifestyle modifications that help him lead a healthy and happy life under the guidance of his coach.

Although each person is different and a different approach is required for all, some basic lifestyle changes you can incorporate to manage diabetes include:

1. HEALTHY EATING

What you feed your body affects your blood sugar levels. So, it is important to monitor your daily dietary intake and switch to healthier food choices. The coach analyses your food logs and gives you proper feedback that can help you with your daily meals, without imposing strict restrictions which are generally difficult to follow for a long duration.

The guidelines followed include eating as much as your body needs, portion control, smart healthy food combinations to lower the glycemic load, including more vegetables, fruits, whole grains and pulses, fibre, non-fat dairy and lean meats. This also includes monitoring your carbohydrate intake which is also very important, especially if you are on insulin or drugs that lower sugar levels.

2. PHYSICAL ACTIVITY

Exercise and lifestyle physical activity (LSPA) are important for diabetes management and prevention of diabetes- related complications. An active lifestyle helps the body consume energy on a regular basis and does not let blood sugar levels spike too high.

Regular exercise lowers blood glucose in circulation and in storage. If a person is taking insulin and regular drugs to lower sugar levels, extensive workouts can cause hypoglycemia due to improved sensitivity of insulin. So, it is important to plan your workouts under professional guidance and a lifestyle coach can certainly help you in doing so.

The coach will monitor all your activities and guide you accordingly. Your exercise plan should include – Aerobic activities, strength training, flexibility and balance activities. A dedicated 30 minutes workout plus an active routine through the day, like post meal walks/step climbing, plays a crucial role in controlling your blood sugar levels.

3. MANAGING STRESS

Studies indicate a direct relationship between your stress levels and blood sugar levels. Stress is associated with secretion of certain hormones that increase insulin resistance. Also, when you are stressed/anxious, you may not be able to manage your routine well and thus blood sugar levels may go haywire.

So, it is important to find ways to manage your stress levels. You can seek help from your lifestyle coach and try activities like yoga, meditation, deep breathing or take up hobbies that you enjoy.

4.SOUND SLEEP

Sleep deprivation is associated with impaired glucose tolerance. A sound sleep of 7-8 hours is very important. If you are facing sleep issues, a lifestyle coach can recommend possible dietary and lifestyle changes to improve the quality of your sleep.

5. ALCOHOL AND SMOKING

Smoking is an independent risk factor for the development of diabetes. Smokers are at a higher risk of diabetes progression compared to non-smokers. Hence, smokers should be advised against use of cigarettes, other tobacco products or e-cigarettes.

Alcohol consumption can also increase risk of hypoglycemia, especially when one is taking insulin. Alcohol intake should be restricted to less than 2 drinks for men and less than 1 drink per day for women.

To summarise, structured programmes that emphasise on lifestyle modifications can help reduce your HbA1c levels and manage/reverse your Type 2 diabetes. Though Type 1 diabetes cannot be cured, lifestyle changes are important for managing and preventing health complications associated with the disease.

(The author is a physiotherapist from Delhi University and a certified diet and fitness expert with over 20 years of work experience in the field of health, rehab and lifestyle coaching. Currently, she works as an expert health coach with GOQii. The author is a senior Yoga instructor at SARVA. The article is for informational purposes only. Please consult Yoga experts and professionals before starting any practice. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)

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