Man taking blood sample

If you have diabetes, then you may hear your doctor say that you need to control your A1c. Maybe your doctor talks to about your A1c during every office visit, but it doesn’t seem to improve. Or, maybe your doctor gave you some general guidelines about how to lower your A1c, but you’re still lost. That’s okay! Diabetes management can be really confusing and overwhelming, but keep reading for some helpful tips on how to tackle diabetes by focusing on your A1c.

In this article, we will define what A1c is, what happens if you don’t take care of it and how you can lower your A1c with lifestyle changes. While this article can be helpful for most people, make sure you are being followed by a doctor, registered dietitian and/or certified diabetes educator. Diabetes is highly variable from person to person, so make sure you see your healthcare team often. Now, let’s talk about A1c and how it is important for your diabetes management.

What is A1c?

A1c is a measure of how well (or not so well) your diabetes has been managed over the course of the last 2 to 3 months. Do you take your blood sugar regularly? Think of A1c as an estimated average of all of the blood sugar readings you take.

In the office, your doctor will draw blood and have your A1c analyzed in the lab. You may hear your doctor call it a “glycated hemoglobin test” as well. This simple blood test provides important information that helps your doctor know if your current diabetes treatment plan is working for you.

What is a good A1c number?

Your doctor will determine a good A1c for you based on your current diabetes treatment plan. However, most people with diabetes should try to get their A1c to be 7% or less. A1c is measured as a percent.

Here is a chart that shows A1c percentages that you may see on your blood test results (in the left column). In the right column, we have the estimated average blood sugar that is associated with certain A1c values.

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If you have diabetes, your doctor may want your A1c to be 7% or less. If your A1c is higher than 7%, consider making lifestyle changes to better manage your diabetes.

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What happens if I don’t lower my A1c?

Sometimes seeing a lab result on a piece of paper really doesn’t capture the significance of the problem at hand. If your A1c is higher than what your doctor is recommending, then there needs to be changes in your diabetes management plan. While your doctor will be able to change your medications, it is up to you to make healthy lifestyle changes to help better deal with diabetes.

Long term elevated A1c values may indicate that you are at a higher risk of developing diabetes complications (1). Possible diabetes complications include:

  • Eye problems and/or blindness
  • Sores or ulcers on your skin that are slow to heal, especially on the feet
  • Issues with high blood pressure and cholesterol, which puts you at greater risk for heart attack and stroke
  • Nerve damage
  • Digestive problems
  • Kidney disease that may require dialysis or a kidney transplant
  • Depression
  • If you are a woman, you may have trouble before, during or after pregnancy
  • Increased risk of dementia

How can I lower my A1c?

 Some people call diabetes “just a touch of sugar,” however, uncontrolled diabetes can lead to serious problems. If you want to have more control over your current and future health, then consider making these healthy lifestyle changes to lower your A1c. Remember, a better A1c suggests that you have better management of your diabetes!

Tip #1: Don’t miss your doctor and/or dietitian appointments.

It is essential that you have good communication with your healthcare team. With diabetes especially, show up to your appointments so that your healthcare team can update your labs, information, medicines and eating habits. Seeing your doctor regularly can also help your doctor recognize new or emerging conditions (i.e. complications of diabetes).

Tip #2: Take all of your medications exactly as prescribed.

People with diabetes often have lots of different medications and may even be on insulin shots. Even though taking these medications may come with a learning curve, always ask about how to take your medications (even if you have to ask over and over and over again). Taking your medications and/or insulin incorrectly can throw off your blood sugars, which can then give you an abnormal A1c at your next doctor visit. Also, make sure you always have blood sugar test strips on hand. I would suggest buying these glucose test strips in bulk so that you don’t run out!

Tip #3: Achieve or maintain a healthy weight.

Research shows that losing as little as 5 to 10% of your body weight can have a significant, positive impact on your health status. A healthy weight can be achieved by regular exercise and eating healthy. If you’re trying to maintain your weight, the American Diabetes Association recommends adults get at least 150 minutes of exercise per week. For those who are trying to lose weight, strive to get 300 minutes of exercise per week. For more information about exercise, click here.

If you’re looking to do at-home workouts, I would recommend getting a home fitness machine like the Nautilus E614 Elliptical Trainer. This machine is low-impact and can accommodate nearly any fitness level.

Tip #4: Eat healthy for diabetes.

A registered dietitian can help you create a personalized healthy eating plan with diabetes. However, it is important to emphasize fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats. Sometimes people with diabetes shy away from carbohydrates since they can raise blood sugar, however, we all need carbohydrates, even if we are diabetic! Try to keep your carbohydrate intake consistent from day to day. To help you create healthy meals, I would suggest trying these healthy eating plate dividers. These plates are set up exactly as I counsel my diabetic patients! Also, if you get several sets, you can meal prep for the week!