Advance with MUSC Health

How to Lower Your A1C - and Keep it Low

Advance With MUSC Health
July 26, 2022
Merrit Huber, M.D.

If you or a loved one has diabetes, you know it's essential for A1C glucose (blood sugar) levels to stay in a healthy range. Low A1C levels can change how you think and function. High A1C levels can cause health problems and damage to the body.

We talked with Dr. Merritt Huber, a board-certified family medicine physician with MUSC Health Primary Care - Carnes Crossroads, about why healthy levels are critical, what happens when A1C levels are too high, and how to keep A1C down.

Why A1C Levels Are Important

Diabetes is a chronic health condition, but it can be managed with the proper care, including exercise, diet, and sometimes medicine.

The A1C test is a big part of helping to manage diabetes. The A1C test measures the blood sugar level in the blood and tells you how well your body is staying at that level. It shows your blood sugar levels over the past three months. The more sugar there is in the blood, the higher the A1C. A1C tests use blood from a finger prick or blood draw.

The A1C test is done at least twice a year for people with diabetes. It may be done more often if a person's blood sugar is not at a healthy level. If you're 45 or older or have risk factors, an A1C test will be recommended every one to three years.

A1C is given as a percentage. The American Diabetes Association says to keep A1C levels below 7 percent. However, HbA1C levels vary for each person and depend on many things.

Knowing your A1C level helps you manage your health. When you know, you can keep it low! Keeping A1C levels low has been shown to slow the advance of diabetes and minimize the risk of complications in type 1 and type 2 diabetes. These complications include blindness, nerve damage, kidney failure, heart and vascular disease, and gum disease.

Signs Your A1C is High

If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, you probably know how it feels when your A1C levels rise too high or hyperglycemia. Yet the signs of high blood sugar are often mild and easy to miss.

That explains why many people with diabetes or prediabetes don't know it.

Symptoms may show up slowly, over a few days or weeks. Or they may seem unimportant. Look out for these signs that your blood sugar may be rising too high:

  • Feeling tired or weak, especially right after you eat.
  • Feeling thirsty and having to pee often.
  • Headaches.
  • Blurred vision.
  • Tingling, numbness, or a burning feeling in your hands and feet.
  • Having cuts or sores that are not healing fast enough. (Often, these sores are on the feet.)

Other symptoms may include weight loss, being lightheaded or restless, and tiredness.

How to Keep A1C Levels Down

The good news is that lifestyle changes and medicines can help you reach a healthy A1C. And even small changes in A1C levels can help improve your health. My patients and I make a plan together to find the proper diet, exercise, and medicine to keep A1C levels healthy.

Here are my exercise and lifestyle tips to help lower A1C. I have seen patients change their lives with diet and exercise. You'll want to talk to your doctor before making any changes.

Get Moving

Exercise is one of the best ways to lower blood sugar or A1C. Did you know that just one exercise session can lower blood sugar for 24 hours or more? That's amazing to me, and I always share that inspiring fact with patients.

Experts say 150 to 300 minutes of exercise each week is a good goal. Your doctor will help you find the right plan for you. Working in the yard, making the bed, vacuuming, gardening, tidying up, and other activities all count toward your minutes! Anything that gets you moving can be part of your exercise and movement goals.

Eat Right

Choose plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables, beans, nuts, and whole grains, and stick to foods low in sugar, salt, and fat. Whole grains take longer to digest, so they help keep your blood sugar levels stable. So does fresh fruit, because it has a lot of fiber. Fiber takes longer to break down, giving you energy and lowering the chance of blood sugar spikes.

  • It's best to eat every 3 to 5 hours. Try to eat the same portion amounts each time.
  • Plan meals ahead of time. When you plan, you are more likely to eat a balanced diet instead of processed or fast foods.
  • Carbohydrates such as sweet potatoes and squash are fuel for your body and brain. They are full of essential nutrients. It's important to spread the carbohydrates you eat throughout the day.
  • You can add nuts to just about anything! They add protein and fiber to pasta, cereal, cheeses, and desserts.

Manage Stress

As with most health conditions, high-stress levels can make things worse. High-stress levels have been shown to raise blood sugar and A1C levels.

Meditation, yoga, breath work, and talk therapy have proven to help patients better manage diabetes, lowering cardiovascular disease risk.

Track Your Progress and Celebrate What Works

When you track your progress, you'll know what works. Even little successes are motivating and will encourage you to keep up the good work!

  • Try keeping a food journal to see if you can notice any high blood sugar patterns — this could help you learn to manage your A1C levels better and keep them down.
  • Get a buddy to share the journey. Studies show that connecting with others over a shared goal can help you stay on track.

To speak with an MUSC Health primary care provider about your A1C, schedule an appointment online or call 843-792-7000.