Diabetes is a serious, chronic disease that can lead to many complications. But it doesn’t have to control your life.
Getting your A1C level tested, especially if you’re at risk for developing type 2 diabetes, is a good way of taking care of yourself. An early diagnosis helps you get treatment before complications can occur.
What is the A1C test?
The A1C test is a blood test that screens for diabetes. If you have diabetes, it shows whether treatment is working and how well you’re managing the condition. The test provides information about a person’s average levels of blood sugar over a two- to three-month period before the test.
The number is reported as a percentage. If the percentage is higher, so are your average blood glucose levels. This means your risk for either diabetes or related complications is higher.
How to lower your score
You can lower your A1C by making changes to your:
- exercise regimen
If you already have diabetes and are taking medications that can cause low blood sugar levels, find out your optimal levels. In people at risk for hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), for example, it may not be safe to keep their A1C level below 7 percent.
The medications that lower fasting blood sugars will also lower your A1C level. Some medications primarily affect your blood sugars after a meal. These are also called postprandial blood sugars.
These medications include sitagliptin (Januvia), repaglinide (Prandin), and others. While these medications don’t significantly improve fasting glucose values, they still lower your A1C level because of the decrease in post-meal glucose spikes.
Here are 5 ways to lower your A1C:
1. Make a plan
Take stock of your goals and challenges. A plan will help you figure out your biggest challenges, like:
- losing weight
- coping with stress
- eating a healthy diet
Planning will also help you set goals. Form small steps you can take to achieve your goals in a reasonable amount of time.
2. Dietary tips
Everyone, especially people with diabetes, can benefit from a healthful diet that includes plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and whole foods and is low in sugar, salt, and fat.
Monitoring carbohydrate intake can help a person manage their glucose levels.
General diet tips to lower A1C levels include:
- being mindful of portion sizes
- eating regularly, every 3-5 hours
- eating similar sized portions at meals and snacks
- planning meals ahead of time
- keeping a journal of food, medication, and exercise
- spreading out carbohydrate-rich foods throughout the day
- choosing less processed or whole foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and nuts
- eating a balanced diet complete with healthy proteins, fats, and carbohydrates
- seeking out the help of a registered dietitian
A healthcare professional will advise each person on their dietary needs, including the number of carbs they should consume. This will depend on individual factors, including the person’s exercise levels and treatment plan.
3. Create a diabetes management plan
If you have diabetes, create a diabetes management plan with your doctor. Your plan should include:
- emergency contacts
- medical instructions
- medication list
- target blood glucose levels
- instructions on how to test
- information on how often to test
- plan on how to correct low blood sugars
Keeping everyone on the same page is the best way to manage diabetes safely and bring down your A1C levels.
4. Get moving
Increase your activity level to get your A1C level down for good. Start with a 20-minute walk after lunch. Build up to 150 minutes of extra activity a week.
Get confirmation from your doctor first before you increase your activity level. In the Diabetes Prevention Program at the University of Pittsburgh, being more active was key in reducing the risk of developing diabetes.
Remember: Any exercise is better than no exercise. Even getting up for two minutes every hour has been shown to help reduce the risk of diabetes.
5. Lifestyle tips
Exercise and lifestyle tips to help lower A1C levels include:
Physical activity: Current guidelines recommend that adults should do 150–300 minutes of moderate physical exercise each week. People who use insulin should talk to their doctor about a suitable plan.
Routine activities: Housework, gardening, and other routine activities can all help keep a person moving.
Monitoring blood glucose: This is crucial to ensure the person meets their targets and makes any necessary changes.
Following the treatment plan: This includes the use of medications and lifestyle therapies.
Target weight: The person should work on setting and achieving any weight loss goals.
Tracking progress: This is useful for self-motivation, for monitoring changes, and for identifying which strategies work for an individual.
Getting others involved: Lifestyle changes are often easier to adopt if other people can encourage and monitor progress.
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