The American Diabetes Association estimates that more than 20.8 million children and adults in the United States have diabetes and many others are at risk for developing the chronic disease. But with proper nutrition and regular physical activity, a diabetic or borderline diabetic can still maintain a healthy lifestyle.

“Those who have been diagnosed with type-2 diabetes or think they may be at risk for the disease should first and foremost consult a physician to understand their individual health needs,” said Debbie Jones, health promotion specialist for Virginia Cooperative Extension and assistant professor of public health at Virginia State University. “Like anyone else, diabetics should follow a healthy diet or a food plan such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPyramid food guide and exercise for at least 30 minutes on most days.”

Jones offers self-management training for diabetics in Petersburg, Va. A partnership between Virginia Cooperative Extension and the Petersburg Health Department, her program provides health tips, demonstrations on how to prepare healthy foods, and discussions about topics ranging from exercise to glucose monitoring. She also debunks common myths about diabetes.

“There are many people with type-2 diabetes who wrongly believe they cannot have any sugars in their diet but still eat unhealthy processed foods, not realizing foods that aren’t high in fiber and grain are more readily used by their body to produce sugars.” Jones said. “Most people can follow the basic dietary guidelines of a food pyramid without much restriction on specific foods they eat as long as they observe portion control and follow sound nutritional practices.”

A common mistake that many individuals make is to change their lifestyle all at once, often unsuccessfully. “You can make changes to improve your health one at a time,” Jones said. “One week you might want to introduce whole grains into your diet by replacing white bread with whole-wheat bread. If you gradually make changes in your diet and level of physical activity, you will be less overwhelmed.”

Exercise can be as simple as walking or taking the stairs instead of riding the elevator. Jones said that physical activity helps the body use glucose more effectively. It also reduces the risk of obesity and cardiovascular disease, two health concerns often associated with diabetes.

The American Diabetes Association website offers additional resources and suggestions for those living with diabetes.

About Virginia Cooperative Extension

Virginia Cooperative Extension brings the resources of Virginia’s land-grant universities, Virginia Tech and Virginia State University, to the people of the commonwealth. Through a system of on-campus specialists and locally based agents, it delivers education in the areas of agriculture and natural resources, family and consumer sciences, community viability, and 4-H youth development. With a network of faculty at two universities, 107 county and city offices, 13 agricultural research and extension centers, and six 4-H educational centers, Virginia Cooperative Extension provides solutions to the problems facing Virginians today.