Contrary to popular belief, you can live a long, healthy life with type 2 diabetes, without developing complications. In its 2010 report, Diabetes UK found that someone with type 2 diabetes is likely to have a reduced life expectancy by up to 10 years, and someone living with type 1 diabetes is likely to have a reduced life expectancy by up to 20 years.
However, with advanced technologies and therapies, people are living longer and healthier than ever. Results from the University of Pittsburgh after a 30-year longitudinal study found that people with type 1 diabetes born after 1965 had a life expectancy of 69 years — longer than any study had ever previously found.
In part four of our four-part series on living well with type 2 diabetes, we will dive into the keys to long term success managing your condition, and how to prevent complications over the long term.
What Causes Complications?
It’s important to know what causes complications in people with type 2 diabetes. Not everyone living with diabetes will develop complications, but the occurrence of chronic hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar, can lead to heart disease, kidney failure, nerve damage, and retinopathy (the most common complications of diabetes). It’s important to keep your blood sugars in range as much as possible to help prevent the onset of these complications.
Keys to Long Term Success
A number of factors have been shown to help slow the progression of (or completely prevent) complications in people with diabetes:
- Keep HbA1c in range – Studies have shown that keeping your HbA1c lower than 7% can prevent the onset of complications, and closely monitoring your blood sugar (testing regularly) can help tighten your control. Talk with your doctor about the ideal number of times she would like you to test per day, and make sure you always test before and after meals.
- Take your medications as prescribed – Some people think that insulin is “bad” or they just don’t like the thought of taking a pill every day. You’re prescribed your medicine for a reason, and you should follow all doctors’ orders to take them as prescribed. Rationing or skipping doses can quickly lead to complications or even premature death.
- Follow a sensible diet – You don’t need to go completely paleo or keto to have better blood sugars, but speaking with your doctor or seeing a nutritionist can help you develop an eating plan that will work for you that you can sustain. Be sure to include plenty of fresh vegetables, protein, and water. Eating similar foods, eating a low carbohydrate lunch (of 20 grams or fewer) and limiting meals at restaurants has also been shown to help improve blood sugar management in people with diabetes.
- Exercise – Exercise is one of the most important things you can do to prevent complications. Not only does it lower blood sugars, but it gets the heart working and the blood pumping, increasing circulation and strengthening your whole cardiovascular system. Exercise boosts your immune system, and increases serotonin in the brain, making you feel good and helping to prevent the onset of depression. According to our Thrivable Insights study, people with type 2 diabetes who have an HbA1c <6.5% are more likely (20% vs 8%) to exercise 4-6 times per week than people living with type 2 diabetes who have an HbA1c of 8% or higher.
- Surround yourself with support – Diabetes is a marathon, not a sprint, and the journey can be lonely at times. A study from the University Hospital in Denmark found that loneliness may actually cause premature death by damaging the blood vessels of the heart, which can be compounded with a diagnosis of diabetes. Long term success with your diabetes care is much more likely if you surround yourself with supportive family and friends, or if you can find a community who will understand. Sharing your thoughts, worries, and feelings will help lighten your load, and you may just learn a thing or two that you didn’t previously know about diabetes and how to better care for yourself!
Have you had diabetes for a long time, and are thriving without complications? What are some of the best strategies you’ve employed to achieve success? Share this post and comment below!