Top tips for keeping your blood sugar in check. Learn how from the expert.

Keep reading to learn how to win a copy of the best-selling book, Prediabetes: A Complete Guide!

A few weeks ago, I was a guest on Samantha Heller’s Doctor Radio, Nutrition and Exercise Show. It is always fun to talk with my friend Samantha, a registered dietitian and exercise physiologist about nutrition and exercise (click here to read more about her.)

The topic on the show was my favorite….healthy aging, and one of the callers said he was a regular exerciser but was concerned about his strong family history of type 2 diabetes. He asked a simple question: “what three tips would you give me to avoid developing diabetes?”

I replied with these three tips:

  1. Maintain your weight. Many older adults gain a couple of pounds a year and after 20 years those couple of pounds turn into 20 or 40 extra pounds. The disease of obesity can cause a dysregulation of blood sugar and is risk factor for developing diabetes.
  2. Keep up your aerobic exercise. Sugar (also called glucose) in your blood stream needs the hormone insulin for muscle cells to use sugar. Insulin is like a key to allow glucose into cells. Exercise acts a bit like insulin…improving the sensitivity of insulin and helping to facilitate glucose movement into cells.
  3. Choose your carbohydrates with quality in mind. There is no need to avoid carbs but choose carbs with nutrients and fiber.

After the call, I thought his question was a good one and wanted a more detailed answer, so I turned a diabetes expert, my friend and colleague, Jill Weisenberger for a more comprehensive response. Jill is a Virginia-based Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and a Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist (CDCES). Jill shared her insights on pre-diabetes with me when her best-selling book, Prediabetes: A Complete Guide was published (click here to read the interview.)  She is also the creator of the video course Stick With It to help you finally stick with your eating and exercise goals.

Jill agrees with my tip on aerobic exercise, she explains not only is aerobic exercise on most days important but “try not to allow more than 2 days between bouts of exercise because by then, you lose the boost in insulin sensitivity from your last exercise session. Insulin sensitivity improves for 2 hours to 2 days depending on the type, intensity and duration of the exercise.”

She also reminds us to engage in progressive, resistance exercise or strength training. “Perform strength training at least two times each week. It boosts insulin sensitivity at least as well as aerobic exercise and the effects are additive. Additionally, maintaining muscle mass is critical to managing post-meal blood sugar levels. Muscle is like a bucket for glucose after eating. The more muscle you have the more area you have for glucose to go after a meal.” And, while we are talking about exercise, Jill reminds us to move more. “Avoid being sedentary. Even if you exercise 30 – 60 minutes daily, what you do the other 23 hours matters a lot. Long periods of sedentary behavior decrease glucose uptake. Break up long periods of sitting with 2-3 minutes of activity every half hour. Get up and walk, take a bathroom or water break, do squats, wall push-ups, anything that gets you moving for a bit.”

We’ve all heard about the importance of sleep for good health, but did you know that insufficient sleep affects your blood sugar? Jill says, “aim for 7-8 hours of quality sleep per night because short sleeping decreases insulin sensitivity.”

Photo credit Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics

Lastly, about those carbs, “Don’t become carb-phobic,” says Jill.  Maintain a high-fiber diet from a variety of foods. Only carb-containing foods provide fiber, and we need lots of different types of fibers for good health. The fiber in oats and barley, for example, helps regulate both cholesterol and glucose metabolism. Fibers in pulses (beans, peas, and lentils), some grains and even cold cooked potatoes (hello, potato salad!) help the good bacteria in our guts thrive. And we need lots of these helpful microbes for good health, including the treatment and prevention of type 2 diabetes. In fact, people with type 2 diabetes or obesity tend to have less diverse microbial populations in their guts. The types of bacteria in the gut appears to be related to inflammation, insulin sensitivity and even appetite control, so the more we can help the beneficial microbes thrive with a good diet, the better our chances of avoiding certain health problems.”

In summary, stay active, go for a brisk walk, challenge your muscles to get and stay strong, get your ZZZs, and enjoy fiber-rich carbohydrate foods to keep your blood sugar in check and avoid diabetes.

To win a copy of Jill’s book, drop a comment or question about this post in the comment box and share it on your social media with the #FoodAndFitnessAfter50 and tag me @chrisrosenbloom and tag Jill @nutritionjill.

Chris Rosenbloom is a registered dietitian nutritionist and a nutrition professor emerita at Georgia State University. She is the author of Food & Fitness After 50 and creator of the blog on healthy aging, Fit to Eat. Click here to follow her blog.