Tips for Managing Type 2 Diabetes During Retirement

Medically reviewed by Peggy Pletcher, MS, RD, LD, CDE on January 27, 2017Written by Annette McDermott on January 27, 2017
type 2 diabetes

You’ve worked hard your entire life, and you’ve earned a break from the daily grind. Retirement is a time to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Everyone should look after their health during this season of life. But if you have type 2 diabetes, it’s more important than ever.

Diabetes and retirement tips

Several factors come into play as you age with type 2 diabetes. The aging process itself increases your risk of developing serious conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and eye problems. But type 2 diabetes also increases your risk, so it’s important to be extra vigilant about your blood sugar levels and your overall health.

Here are some things you can do to stay as healthy as possible during your retirement years:

1. Stay active

It’s OK to enjoy the view from a rocking chair on your front porch occasionally, but don’t make it a habit. Staying active is one of the best retirement gifts you can give yourself. Regular physical activity may help you:

  • maintain good blood sugar levels
  • relieve stress and anxiety
  • reduce or delay your risk of diabetes complications
  • reduce or delay your risk of heart disease and stroke
  • maintain a healthy blood pressure
  • maintain healthy bones
  • maintain a healthy weight
  • maintain range of motion through your joints

Physical activity doesn’t mean you must join a gym and spend 30 minutes a day on an elliptical machine. It simply means you need to keep moving throughout the day. Some ideas are:

  • gardening
  • housework
  • walking your dog
  • playing with your grandkids
  • swimming
  • yard work
  • yoga
  • bicycling
  • taking the stairs instead of the elevator

2. Eat a diabetes-friendly and heart-healthy diet

If you’ve eaten a healthy diet since receiving a diabetes diagnosis, don’t stop now! For some people, retirement increases the temptation to graze on unhealthy foods throughout the day. But retirement is the perfect time to expand your healthy eating plan. Use your downtime to plan new, diabetes-friendly meals and cook them from scratch.

Strive to eat mostly:

  • high-fiber, slow-digesting carbs
  • whole grains
  • low-glycemic fruit
  • fish high in omega-3s
  • foods containing healthy fats such as avocados and olive oil
  • low-fat dairy

If possible, visit your local farmer’s markets to purchase fresh produce. Look for these diabetes superfoods:

  • berries
  • dark, leafy greens
  • healthy nut mixes, grass-fed beef, and fresh fish
  • citrus fruits

Sweets made from refined carbs aren’t totally off the menu, but save them for special occasions. When dining out, start your meal with a green salad or broth-based soup. Substitute a quinoa or other high-fiber grain dish for french fries, and choose grilled fish or chicken instead of a fried entree.

3. Keep an eye on your cholesterol

People with type 2 diabetes tend to have higher levels of “bad” cholesterol (LDL), lower levels of “good” cholesterol (HDL), and high triglycerides. The American Heart Association states that this type of lipid profile increases your risk of heart disease and atherosclerosis. And, according to a 2014 study, cardiovascular complications were the most common complication in people 70 to 79 years old with either short-term or long-term diabetes.

If you haven’t had your cholesterol levels checked recently, ask your doctor to order a blood lipid profile. A healthy diet and physical activity may be enough to control cholesterol levels in some cases, but you may also need a prescription medication such as a statin.

4. Monitor your blood sugar levels regularly

Successful blood sugar monitoring can mean the difference between developing a serious complication or not. Out-of-whack blood sugar levels don’t always cause symptoms, so you can’t just monitor your sugar when you feel bad. You must monitor it consistently as directed by your doctor to identify problematic trends before they cause a setback.

Don’t be intimated by new monitoring technology. Take advantage of it. Blood sugar monitors, syringes, and insulin pens have come a long way in the last decade or so. Newer models make it much easier to monitor your blood sugar levels and administer insulin.

5. Pamper your feet

Your feet have worked hard to carry you throughout your life. Now it’s time to return the favor. Foot problems are common in people with type 2 diabetes. Many of these issues are caused by nerve damage and poor blood flow. Some complications are:

  • wounds that won’t heal
  • foot ulcers
  • dry, cracked skin
  • foot deformation
  • foot amputation

To pamper your feet:

  • do lubricate them daily with a moisturizing lotion or petroleum jelly, but avoid putting any between your toes
  • do a daily foot check to look for cuts, blisters, open sores, or other abnormalities, using a mirror if you can’t see your feet well on your own
  • do wear shoes that fit properly, avoiding high heels and open-toe shoes
  • don’t use razor blades or other sharp objects to remove corns or calluses
  • don’t walk barefoot — always wear absorbent socks and shoes

6. Stop smoking

Smoking makes it hard to control your blood sugar. It also increases your risk of serious diabetes complications such as:

Your chances of quitting smoking are better if you don’t go it alone. Talk to your doctor about smoking cessation programs in your area.

7. Take care of your eyes

Your eyes need to be at their best so you can enjoy seeing the sights during retirement. But unmanaged blood sugar can seriously affect your eye health. Common eye conditions caused by diabetes or made higher risk due to diabetes are:

Many eye problems don’t cause symptoms until damage is done. As a result, you should see an ophthalmologist, or an eye health specialist, at least once a year.

8. Take care of your smile

According to the American Dental Association, uncontrolled high blood sugar levels in saliva creates an ideal breeding ground for bacteria. This may lead to tooth decay, oral fungal infections, or gum disease. Unmanaged diabetes may make it harder for your body to heal from oral infections or dental work. To reduce your risk of dental problems, brush your teeth twice daily, floss at least once daily, and have professional dental cleanings twice a year.

The takeaway

When it comes to happiness, attitude is everything. Managing a chronic condition such as type 2 diabetes may be challenging at times. It’s easier to maintain a positive outlook if you recognize that the ongoing steps you must take to manage your blood sugar will also promote good health overall.

With a little effort and planning, there’s no reason diabetes should derail your retirement plans. In fact, you may have more time to manage the condition effectively and enjoy a full, active lifestyle for years to come.

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