Nerves are the body’s messengers. From your fingertips to your toes, your nerves control everything from a simple sneeze to your beating heart. But sometimes diabetes can damage this complex network.

Researchers believe this happens when, over time, a surplus of glucose destroys the walls of the blood vessels that feed your nerves, particularly in the legs.

An estimated 60 to 70 percent of people with diabetes have some form of nerve damage, also known as neuropathy. Individuals who have lived with diabetes for many years are at the highest risk for developing neuropathy. But even those who have only had diabetes for a short time can suffer from nerve damage if their blood sugar has been out of control.

Experts believe that you can drastically lower your chances of neuropathy and other diabetes complications by consistently keeping your glucose levels in the target range. An important 1993 study found that maintaining strict control over blood glucose reduced risk of neuropathy in people with diabetes by as much as 60 percent. Even if you already have some nerve damage, tighter control of your blood sugar levels may help to thwart or delay further injury.

5 tips to keep your blood sugar levels in check

As you know, controlling your blood sugar each day is a big task that requires constant monitoring. And if you take insulin, you also require numerous doses of medicine throughout your day. The following tips can help you maintain healthy blood sugar levels and avoid complications:

1. Eat healthy. Whether you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, a healthy diet can help you manage your glucose level. Monitoring your carb intake is especially important, as carbs can have a dramatic impact on your blood sugar. An ideal meal plan includes a variety of colorful veggies and fruits, as well as lean meats, dairy, nuts, and grains. It may be helpful to divide your daily eating pattern into three meals with healthy snacks evenly spaced in between.

2. Get fit. When combined with a healthy diet and medicine (when prescribed), exercise can help you reach and maintain a healthy weight, which, in turn helps to control blood sugar levels. Regular, moderate-intensity physical activity can improve your body’s sensitivity to insulin and help your body better use glucose, particularly if you have type 2 diabetes.

Although regular exercise can help control blood sugar, it can also cause it to dip. Talk to your doctor to find out if you should test your glucose before and after being active. Don’t avoid exercise if it does cause drops in your blood sugar. Just make sure you have healthy snacks—like an apple or banana—on hand. Talk to your doctor before beginning any exercise routine.

3. Take your medications. Follow your treatment plan and take your medicines as prescribed by your doctor—whether in the form of regular insulin injections or diabetes pills. If you take insulin, timing it around your meals is important. Talk to your doctor to determine when and how often you need it.

4. Track your blood glucose levels. A glucose meter is the most accurate way to keep track of your blood sugar levels, and it can help you make decisions about your daily care. Mayo Clinic recommends aiming for a blood glucose level between 70 to 130 mg/dL before meals. Talk to your doctor to determine your target range.

5. Get an A1c test twice a year. A1c testing tracks your average blood sugar level over three months and offers you an accurate snapshot of your blood sugar control over time. If you have diabetes, the American Diabetes Association recommends getting an A1c test at least twice a year if your glucose levels consistently stay at a healthy range. However, if you change medications or have trouble controlling blood sugar, you may need to be tested more often.

In the meantime, researchers will continue to improve and develop medicines to prevent and even halt neuropathy. Until then, vigilantly controlling your blood sugar levels will go a long way towards protecting, and possibly even preventing, nerve damage. Work closely with your healthcare team to create a treatment plan that helps you better manage your blood glucose levels.