Diabetes has reached epidemic proportions worldwide. In the United States alone, more than 26 million people have some form of diabetes, and another 86 million are at-risk. While it is often assumed that management means only taking medications, there are many other aspects that contribute to living a healthy life with diabetes.

Self-management is a term that describes the skills and behaviors needed for people to take better care of their own health and wellness. Diabetes education is the cornerstone of effective self-management. Classes help people build the knowledge and skills necessary to navigate the daily demands of diabetes. They are tailored around the goals of the person with diabetes, to help them learn to make decisions around their own self-care and to find the support and resources they need.

Numerous studies show the value of the following self-care behaviors — in not only reducing complications, but in improving the quality of life for those living with this disease. Diabetes educators are health care professionals specializing in helping people with diabetes achieve these behavior changes, leading to improved health and lower health costs. Here’s what they recommend:

1. Healthy eating

Helps with understanding how the foods we eat can make a difference in blood sugar levels, cholesterol, blood pressure and even weight. Healthy food choices, portion sizes, food sources and understanding food labels are a few explored concepts.

2. Taking medications

Assists in understanding how the medication works, what effect it will have on blood sugar, possible side effects, and the best way to take each treatment. Exploring barriers to access to needed medication is also critical.

3. Being active

Has many health benefits, like reducing cholesterol, improving blood pressure, lowering stress and anxiety, and improving mood.

4. Monitoring

Involves understanding blood sugar numbers and other lab values, but also includes daily inspection of skin and feet, as well as yearly wellness checkups.

5. Problem solving

Helps to identify obstacles and develop possible steps that could be taken to avoid or correct the situation. 

6. Reducing risks

Focuses on lowering the chance of developing any of the complications often associated with having diabetes.

7. Healthy coping

Addresses stress management, depression and issues related to living with diabetes.