According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 30 million Americans have diabetes. That’s nearly 10 percent of the U.S. population. Regular exercise combined with a healthy diet can help to normalize blood sugar levels. Gardening is an excellent way to achieve that goal. Tasks such as lifting, weeding, digging and mowing are comparable to a moderate workout. Exercise is all the more enjoyable when you’re doing something you love. For maximum benefit, work in the garden for at least 30 minutes a day, five or more days a week. For people with diabetes, exercise can help to improve their quality of life.         

A chronic disease can make you feel vulnerable. This anxiety increases the level of cortisol, a steroid hormone associated with stress. Elevated levels of cortisol lead to high blood sugar levels. The calm environment of a garden helps to reduce stress. Being outdoors exposes you to sunlight. Although the research is inconclusive, higher levels of vitamin D have been associated with overall good health. Being outdoors in the sunshine feels good. 

Growing your own food is satisfying and gives you a greater sense of control over your disease. Non-starchy vegetables like asparagus, tomatoes and leafy greens are among the choicest picks for a diabetic garden. A diabetic diet doesn’t have to be bland.  Flavorful herbs are inexpensive and easy to grow.  Stevia is a pleasant-tasting sugar substitute that’ll satisfy your sweet tooth. Keep plenty on hand. Remember, all foods that come from plant sources are cholesterol-free and most are low in calories and saturated fats. When you garden organically, you have the peace of mind that comes from knowing exactly what’s in your food. Anyone can learn to garden. You don’t even need a yard. All you need is a packet of seeds and a container.     

There are a few precautions that people with diabetes should take. If you haven’t been active for a while, check with your health care provider to assess what you can do safely. If you take medication to control your blood sugar, check your blood sugar levels before, during and after you finish gardening. This will help to determine how your body responds to the increased activity. Keep a snack handy in case your blood sugar level gets too low.     

Never wear flip flops or sandals in the garden. Always wear comfortable, well-fitting shoes and cotton socks.  Sometimes diabetes damages the nerves in your feet and you can’t tell if you’ve been injured. Check your shoes for pebbles or anything that might cause a blister. The slightest foot wound could result in serious complications. Check your feet every day for any type of injury. Don’t go barefoot indoors or out. Diabetes can also cause nerve damage to the hands. Wear gloves when using hand tools or garden equipment. 

I’ve had diabetes for about 12 years. I try not to let it keep me from doing the things I love. I just have to pay more attention to what I’m doing and how my body responds. Proper diabetes management includes eating healthy, exercising regularly and taking your medication. Rachel is better at recognizing when I need to eat than I am. Listen to your body as well as the people around you. See your doctor right away if you have any of the following symptoms: extreme thirst, frequent urination, extreme tiredness, blurry vision or wounds that just won’t heal. 

It’s never too late to be more active. Start gardening. 

Rachel and Ivan Minnis are avid gardeners. They live in Leavenworth. For more information, visit The Minnis Rose Garden on Facebook. Contact them at rnlyes@hotmail.com