The first thing that Joanie does when she wakes up to her alarm at 6am is check her blood glucose level.

She does this by pricking her finger and drawing a drop of blood to test on her blood glucose meter. She then records the result in a logbook.

Next, she munches on a banana before setting off for her morning walk.

Upon returning, she checks her blood glucose level again before tucking into a healthy breakfast of rice congee or a bowl of mixed fruit. She then gets ready for her job as a receptionist.

Joanie may check her blood glucose level three or more times in the course of a day and night to ensure that she stays within the healthy range to manage her diabetes.

On rare days, she may need to inject insulin to control her blood sugar level, but these days are becoming few and far between since she adopted a healthy diet and exercise routine.

That’s Joanie’s routine because she has to control her diabetes.

What is diabetes?

There are two major types of diabetes. Type 1 is categorised by a lack of insulin production and requires lifelong care and management through insulin injections and medication.

Type 2 results from the body’s ineffective use of insulin. Type 2 is more common and is a lifelong (chronic) condition. However, it is often preventable and can sometimes be “reversed”, meaning it can be managed without medication through ongoing dietary control and exercise.

When someone has diabetes, they have high blood glucose (blood sugar), either because their body does not produce enough insulin, or the body’s cells do not respond effectively to insulin.

Insulin plays an important role transferring glucose (the sugars found in food) from the blood, into cells for the body to use as energy.

In the body, the pancreas produces hormones known as insulin and glucagon. Insulin is secreted by the pancreas when blood glucose levels are too high, and glucagon when blood glucose levels are too low.

Someone is considered diabetic if the pancreas does not produce insulin or produces ineffective insulin.

If a person has a family history of diabetes, the risk of developing the condition is higher, and environmental factors such as being overweight, lack of activity and a poor diet also contribute to one’s likelihood of developing diabetes.

Some typical symptoms of diabetes include frequent urination, unquenchable thirst, weakness and fatigue, blurred vision, and tingling or numbness in the limbs.

Like Joanie, many people are impacted by diabetes on a daily basis. But having diabetes isn’t the end of the world. By leading a healthy lifestyle through a nutritious diet plan and careful regulation of one’s weight, the risk of developing diabetes can be reduced, and the negative effects of the condition can be managed, allowing you to live a healthy and fulfilling life.

Risk factors

Some people are more susceptible to developing diabetes due to certain risk factors, which include the following:

• Age: It is recommended that adults over the age of 45 go for diabetes screening every three years.

• BMI: Adults with a BMI of 27.5 and above are considered to be at higher risk.

• A family history of diabetes.

• Overweight children who have other risk factors for diabetes (such as a family history).

• People who do not exercise regularly.

• Women who had gestational diabetes during pregnancy, or who have had a baby weighing nine pounds or more at birth.

Being overweight makes it harder to control blood sugar levels, and the pancreas ends up working overtime producing insulin to keep blood sugar levels within a healthy range.

The incidence of diabetes in Asia is on the rise. A major contributor is diet. Increasingly, people in South-East Asia are adopting more unhealthy, sugar-laden diets.

Also, some local dietary customs involving deep-fried or sweet foods are not making us healthier either.

Other reasons for the dramatic rise in the number of people developing diabetes include access to fast or convenient foods, rising affluence, weight management and tobacco use.

Diagnosing diabetes

Do you suspect that you have diabetes because of your family’s medical history? Do some of the diabetes symptoms resonate with you?

Speak to your medical practitioner about a blood test to check your blood glucose levels.

Blood glucoes tests are the most effective way to determine if you have diabetes.

The different tests include the fasting blood glucose test, the haemoglobin A1C test, and the oral glucose tolerance test. They all measure the level of glucose present in the bloodstream, and the body’s ability to regulate this glucose.

If the test confirms that you’re diabetic, or your body is pre-diabetic (where your blood sugar is not at normal levels, but is not yet at diabetic levels), there are simple, practical lifestyle changes you can make.

Be kind to your body

Over time, diabetes can cause other complications. Remaining vigilant with medical check-ups, adopting healthy lifestyle changes and self-monitoring will help to prevent further health worries down the track.

Eyes: protect your eyes – Diabetes can cause blindness as a result of damage to the small blood vessels in the retina over time.

Schedule an annual eye exam with an eye specialist to look for signs of retinal damage, cataracts and glaucoma.

Heart: stub out the smokes – Diabetes complications include heart diseases, stroke and circulation problems. Smoking actually adds to the risk of developing all of these things since it restricts blood flow throughout your body.

By quitting smoking and engaging in regular cardiovascular exercise, the risk of developing diabetes-related cardiovascular disease drops.

Quitting might not be easy, but it’s well worth the effort.

Kidneys: be kind to your kidneys – High blood sugar levels can overwork the kidneys, causing them to stop working in the long run. Therefore, keeping your blood glucose as close to your healthy goals as possible, reducing blood pressure, eating a healthy diet, reducing alcohol intake and scheduling regular visits to your doctor will all help to prevent kidney disease.

Teeth: say cheese – Diabetics are prone to gum infections, so remember to brush at least twice a day and floss at least once a day to remove plaque and bacteria from the mouth. Visit your dentist at least twice a year for a check-up and a thorough cleaning session.

Feet: protect your paws – High blood glucose levels can lead to reduced blood flow and nerve damage to the feet, resulting in sores and ulcers.

Protect your precious feet by keeping them clean. After washing them, dry, moisturise and massage them, keeping a lookout for any open sores that could lead to infections.

Five steps to achieving a healthy lifestyle

Being overweight makes it harder to control blood sugar levels, and the pancreas ends up working overtime producing insulin to keep blood sugar levels within a healthy range. Photo: 123rf.com

Set goals: Setting lifestyle and diabetes-related goals can help you to overcome any thoughts or beliefs that might hinder treatment and prevention.

These include behavioural changes, such as weight loss through diet and exercise, going for regular medical check-ups, blood pressure control, and glucose monitoring, if required.

If you are finding it difficult to stick to these goals, enlist friends and family members to help. That way, they can keep you on track, making it a whole lot easier to manage your condition.

Monitoring blood glucose levels will become second nature to people living with diabetes. But if you are pre-diabetic, or think you might be at risk, regular check-ups with the family doctor will help you keep track of your status and ensure you are healthy.

Remove sugar for a sweeter life: Following a low-GI meal plan that counts carbohydrates can help maintain a consistent blood glucose level throughout the day. Sugar highs and lows also have an effect on someone’s mood, even from minute to minute.

Anger, irritability, depression and generally feeling “low” are all natural symptoms of low blood sugar levels.

Ditch processed sugars and stick to healthy carbohydrates – your body (and state of mind) will thank you for it.

Beat the bulge: Keeping weight within healthy guidelines will help prevent and manage diabetes. While exercise is essential for maintaining a healthy body weight, it also has a positive influence on diabetes by lowering blood sugar levels.

To try to stop or slow the progress of diabetes, experts recommend up to 150 minutes of exercise per week and losing 5% to 10% of your body weight.

The adrenaline and stress of intense physical activity can also cause blood sugar levels to rise, so if you already have diabetes, close monitoring during exercise is required.

If you’re not used to exercising, start slow! You don’t have to jump from zero to 150 minutes right away!

Try some light to moderate exercises, such as walking or jogging, then work your way up from there.

Always check your blood glucose levels before and after the workout.

Quit smoking: Not only does smoking cause severe health problems like cancer, it can be particularly damaging for diabetics. Smoking may actually double the chance of developing heart disease, stroke and circulation problems.

Smoke one less cigarette every day and work your way down from there. You can even rope in your friends and family to help you out. In quitting smoking, you don’t have to be alone.

Get enough sleep: Do you get a good night’s sleep? Studies have shown that people who sleep less are more likely to be overweight, thus raising their risk of developing diabetes.

Also, people with diabetes who do not manage their blood glucose levels appropriately throughout the day are less likely to enjoy a smooth slumber.

As such, draw up a plan to give yourself at least seven hours of sleep every night.

Also, stop taking caffeinated drinks within five hours of your sleeping time as they can easily affect your sleeping patterns.

Fit For Life Penang 2017 fair logo.

Fit For Life 2017 Penang

You can also visit the FitForLife Penang 2017 fair next month for more healthy living tips.

The fair’s theme “Get Fit. Live Great!” aims to inspire Malaysians to lead a healthy lifestyle and adopt a holistic approach to health that includes physical and mental fitness, financial health and general well-being.

The event will feature a diverse range of health and lifestyle products and services under one roof, catering to people of all ages.

Visitors can expect an array of products suitable for various health needs, such as supplements, diet and nutrition aids, health checks, alternative remedies and many others.

There will also be a diverse range of activities that will be organised during the fair.

This article is courtesy of Great Eastern Life. Star FitForLife Penang 2017 with the theme ‘Get Fit. Live Great!’ is to inspire Malaysians to lead a healthy lifestyle by being physically and mentally fit. Star FitForLife Penang 2017 is organised by Star Media Group Berhad with Great Eastern Life as exclusive event partner. Nestlé Omega Plus is the official wellness sponsor. The fair will be held in Spice Arena (PISA), Penang, from November 17-19, 2017. It is open from 10am to 7pm and admission is free. For enquiries, call 03-79671388 (ext 1529/1243/1466) or visit us at www.facebook.com/starhealthfair