If you have been diagnosed with prediabetes or diabetes, then you are likely familiar with hemoglobin A1C levels.
You can check your hemoglobin A1C levels with a blood test that measures how well your diabetes is controlled which is also called glycemic control.
If your hemoglobin A1C levels are high, it means that your diabetes is not under control and you need to take steps to lower them.
In this article, we will discuss the best ways to lower your hemoglobin A1C levels while also explaining what hemoglobin A1C is and how to measure it.
What is hemoglobin A1C?
Hemoglobin A1C is a measure of how well your blood sugar, also called glucose, has been controlled over the past two to three months.
The higher your hemoglobin A1C, the greater your risk of developing prediabetes and eventually type 2 diabetes, which is the most common form of diabetes mellitus.
After you digest food or drink, your body breaks down carbohydrates into glucose, which is then absorbed into your bloodstream.
Red blood cells carry oxygen throughout your body and as they do, they pick up glucose from your blood.
Your hemoglobin is the protein in your red blood cells that carry oxygen.
The more glucose in your blood, the more hemoglobin will have sugar attached to it. When your hemoglobin has sugar attached to it is called glycated hemoglobin.
The percentage of your hemoglobin that is glycated is your A1C level. Red blood cells have an average lifespan of approximately 120 days, which is the reason your hemoglobin A1C levels relate to the past two to three months.
There are ways you can lower your hemoglobin A1C which we will detail below.
How do you know your hemoglobin A1C levels?
The only way to know your hemoglobin A1C levels is to have a blood test.
The test is usually performed at your doctor’s office or a local lab although there are at-home A1C blood test kits where you can perform the test yourself from the comfort of your own home.
The hemoglobin A1C test can also be called an A1C test or an HbA1c test, with HbA1C standing for glycated hemoglobin.
The test is quick and easy and only requires a small finger prick of blood. Once the sample is taken, it will be sent off to a lab for testing although some at-home test kits come with a machine to analyze your blood sample.
The results can take anywhere from five minutes to up to 10 days to receive depending on the test method. The results of the test are reported as a percentage. The normal range for hemoglobin A1C is below 5.7% which indicates an average blood sugar level.
However, if your levels are 5.7-6.4%, you have prediabetes, while any result above 6.5% indicates that you have diabetes. If your diabetes is left untreated, it could lead to cardiovascular disease, kidney damage, eye damage, and stroke among many other medical problems.
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends taking the hemoglobin A1C test at least twice a year if you have diabetes although your doctor may ask you to take it more often.
What is the difference between checking your blood glucose level and taking an A1C test?
The main difference between checking your blood glucose levels and taking a hemoglobin A1C test is that the A1C test measures how well your glycemic control is over a period of two to three months while checking your blood sugar only tells you what your current blood sugar level is at that moment in time.
What are the best ways to lower your hemoglobin A1C levels?
There are numerous things you can do to help lower your hemoglobin A1C levels.
Some of the best things you can do lower them are:
When you exercise, your muscles use glucose for energy which can help to lower your blood sugar levels.
Both aerobic exercise, like walking, running, biking, or swimming, and resistance exercise, like lifting weights are beneficial.
It is recommended that you exercise for at least 150 minutes per week which can be portioned to 30 minutes per day five days out of the week.
The best way is to get into an exercise routine that you can stick with long term.
Eat a healthy diet
A healthy diet includes plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and lean protein.
It is important to limit sugary drinks and foods, unhealthy fats, and processed foods as well to avoid a blood sugar spike.
Eating small, frequent meals throughout the day can also help to keep your blood sugar levels stable.
Limiting your carb intake by carb counting is very beneficial to maintaining an average blood glucose level as carbs are turned into glucose which is then absorbed into your bloodstream.
Always remember to practice portion control and to check food labels for nutritional information.
Monitor your blood sugar levels
Checking your blood sugar levels regularly is important so that you can see how different activities, like exercise or changes in diet, affect your levels.
It is recommended that you check your blood sugar levels before and after meals as well as before and after physical activity.
It is also wise to check your levels if you feel low or high.
If diet and exercise changes alone are not enough to lower your hemoglobin A1C levels, your doctor may prescribe a diabetes medication.
The most common diabetes medicine used to lower blood sugar levels is insulin which is usually administered through an insulin pen or injection for prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.
There are different types of insulin available and your doctor will determine which one is best for you.
Other diabetic medications, like metformin, may also be prescribed. If your doctor or health care provider recommends medication you need to take it as prescribed to maximize its benefits in lowering your blood glucose levels and ultimately your hemoglobin A1C levels.
If you are carrying around extra weight, losing just a few pounds can make a big difference in your A1C levels.
Even a small weight loss of just 5% to 7% of your body weight can improve your levels.
Losing weight will also help to lower your blood pressure and cholesterol levels as well as decrease your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly will help you with your weight loss goals too.
If you smoke, quitting is one of the best things you can do for your overall health as smoking increases your risk of heart disease, stroke, and cancer.
It also makes it more difficult to have blood sugar control which increases your risk of diabetes by raising your body’s insulin resistance.
If you need help quitting smoking there are many resources available to assist you including counseling and medication.
Manage stress levels
When you are stressed, your body releases hormones that can raise your blood sugar levels.
Learning how to manage stress in a healthy way is important for everyone but especially if you have diabetes.
Some good ways to manage stress are through exercise, relaxation techniques like yoga or meditation, and deep breathing exercises.
There are many things that you can do to lower your hemoglobin A1C levels.
Making lifestyle changes like those listed above to live a healthy lifestyle will not only help to improve your A1C levels but will also improve your overall health. It is also important that you stick to your daily routine with these lifestyle measures and check in with your doctor regularly to achieve your A1C goal.
It is important to remember that A1C tests measure blood sugar over a few months and the results for this test will not be immediate and your A1C levels over time will eventually start to go down.
As always, talk to your doctor or health care provider before making any changes to your diet or exercise routine as they will be able to give you specific recommendations based on your individual needs.
In short, the best ways to lower your hemoglobin A1C levels are by making lifestyle changes such as eating a healthy diet, checking your blood sugar levels regularly, managing stress levels, exercising regularly, quitting smoking, and shedding any excess body weight.
Making these lifestyle changes will not only improve your A1C levels but also your overall health although please remember to consult with your doctor before implementing any lifestyle changes.
If you have any more questions regarding hemoglobin A1C levels or how to lower them, please talk to your doctor or health care provider as they can recommend the best prediabetes or diabetes treatment plan.
References and sources:
Fact Checked and Editorial Process
Diabetic.org is devoted to producing expert and accurate articles and information for our readers by hiring experts, journalists, medical professionals, and our growing Diabetic.org community. We encourage you to read more about our content, editing, and fact checking methods here. This was fact checked by Jacqueline Hensler and medically reviewed by Dr. Angel Rivera.
Erik Rivera is a co-founder of Diabetic.org and has been an e-commerce Entrepreneur for over 10 years since he retired from Special Forces after graduating from the Naval Academy. He also is the founder of Health Ramp Services, a company that brings new medical device companies to market. He has founded several digital businesses and has had a number of successful exits in e-commerce as well as software. His OnePet business is a leader in the online Pet Care space by creating and delivering high quality products and services for pet owners.