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Seniors and Diabetes II –  Exercise and Diet Tips for Senior Diabetics


Last week I embarked on a series on diabetes, sharing causes, symptoms, and a few statistics on how seniors are affected. Like most of the series I’ve done, my research most always encounters an avalanche of information. This was, of course, no exception. My initial foray unearthed a mere 240 million articles.  With that number firmly implanted, I’m guessing diabetes may be an important topic to discuss, even briefly.


Because diabetes is difficult, at least for me, to really grasp, I have limited myself to looking only at Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. To include anything else would be outside the scope of this series. However, before I move on to exercise and diet tips, let’s first take a step back and recap with some simple definitions. “Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is an autoimmune disease that occurs when a person’s pancreas stops producing insulin, the hormone that controls blood-sugar levels. T1D develops when the insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells are mistakenly destroyed by the body’s immune system.”


As defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), “Type 2 diabetes (T2D), formerly known as adult-onset diabetes, is a form of diabetes that is characterized by high blood sugar, insulin resistance, and relative lack of insulin. Type 2 diabetes primarily occurs as a result of obesity and lack of exercise.” The WHO predicts that by 2030 diabetes will be the seventh leading cause of death. Their report further states that a healthy diet, moderate physical activity and maintaining a normal weight can prevent or delay type 2 diabetes. Today I will be sharing some exercise and diet tips that can help you battle and, perhaps, even prevent diabetes.




Writing in Endocrineweb, Lisa M. Leontis RN, ANP-C, and Jodi Godfrey, MS, RD, report on the importance of exercise, stating “exercise is important to help prevent type 2 diabetes and has so many other benefits. It can help you keep lost weight off, and improve your heart health, and if you’re insulin resistant, it can help increase your body’s response to insulin so you will have better blood glucose control.”

Collaborating in the ADA journal, Diabetes Care, Sheri Colberg, a recognized expert in diabetes and exercise, and others, recommend that senior diabetics concentrate their exercise efforts in four areas: aerobic exercise, strength training, flexibility exercises, and balance. “Aerobic exercise involves repeated and continuous movement of large muscle groups. Activities such as walking, cycling, jogging, and swimming rely primarily on aerobic energy-producing systems. Resistance (strength) training includes exercises with free weights, weight machines, bodyweight, or elastic resistance bands. Flexibility exercises improve the range of motion around joints. Balance exercises benefit gait and prevent falls. Activities like tai chi and yoga combine flexibility, balance, and resistance activities.”


Of course, there is a slew of activities diabetic seniors can participate in. I can’t think of them all, but two more that come to mind are dancing and gardening. Both have elements of aerobic and strength training. This further proves that you don’t necessarily need to engage in a high impact workout. There are always options. Choose the one that suits you best.


Like any workout regimen, be smart. If just starting a new regimen, you may want to first consult your physician. Take baby steps, don’t run a mile your first day if you haven’t jogged in over three decades. Start slow and set attainable goals. Also, remember to stay hydrated, drinking plenty of fluids like water. A good idea is to always carry your cellphone, it will come in handy if you have an emergency and need help. It almost goes without saying that you need healthy fuel for your workout, and, diabetic or not, the best way to accomplish that is with a healthy meal plan.





Young or old, a healthy diet is always important. I’m not saying to not indulge, even splurge occasionally, but beer and pizza for breakfast every day might be a bit much. No, moderation is always the best policy. And healthy eating becomes more important, especially if you’re battling a disease like diabetes. The Mayo Clinic recommends as “diabetic friendly”, meals that offer liberal portions of fruit, fiber, and vegetables. Here is a listing of their recommendations:


 Healthy Carbohydrates



Whole grains

Legumes, such as beans and peas

Low-fat dairy products, such as milk and cheese


Fiber-rich foods




Legumes, such as beans and peas

Whole grains


Heart-healthy fish




Mackerel (not king)


‘Good’ fats



Canola, olive and peanut oils


Now that we know what to eat, let’s briefly examine what we shouldn’t.


Avoid these

Saturated fats. Avoid high-fat dairy products and animal proteins such as butter, beef, hot dogs, sausage and bacon. Also, limit coconut and palm kernel oils.

Trans fats. Avoid trans fats found in processed snacks, baked goods, shortening and stick margarine.

Cholesterol. Cholesterol sources include high-fat dairy products and high-fat animal proteins, egg yolks, liver, and other organ meats. Aim for no more than 200 milligrams (mg) of cholesterol a day.

Sodium. Aim for less than 2,300 mg of sodium a day. Your doctor may suggest you aim for even less if you have high blood pressure.


We’ve now looked at foods that are diabetic-friendly and those that aren’t. The goal with any meal plan incorporating diabetic-friendly foods is keeping your blood glucose at a normal level.



A diagnosis of diabetes is not a death knell. There is ample evidence showing, despite environmental and genetic factors or any predisposition, that diabetes can not only be managed but also avoided. In fact, many well-known celebrities have been very open about their diabetes and how they manage.  The list includes Tom Hanks, Larry King, Salma Hayek, and Paula Deen. Athletes are not immune to diabetes either. Jay Cutler, the NFL quarterback, helps, through his Jay Cutler Foundation, children and others who struggle with diabetes.


My purpose today was to illuminate how seniors and others, with a well-planned diet and exercise regimen, can, at the very least, manage their diabetes. My goal was not to debate if it can or cannot be cured. I merely wanted to show how, through proper diet and exercise, seniors and others can lead an independent life.