Winter-Proof Your Diabetes Management: 7 Surprising Hacks to Try
Once again, the seasons have turned the corner, and we find ourselves heading into the winter months again. For many people, the cold weather is an unwelcome nuisance. For those with diabetes, however, lower temperatures can impact blood sugar management, making winter a time to pay special attention to your program.
In this post, we’ll talk about the impact winter can have on blood sugar and offer up a few tips that can help you or someone you know living with diabetes keep things right on track no matter how low the mercury goes. After all, winter can be a wonderland, and there’s no reason anyone with diabetes shouldn’t be able to enjoy the season.
Cold weather and blood sugar
Winter can lead to dramatic temperature drops depending on what area of the country (or world) you call home. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) points out that the colder temperatures alone can put added stress on the body, causing it to release certain hormones, such as cortisol, to provide you with an added energy boost. The problem is that these hormones also tend to curb insulin production. As most with diabetes know, insulin is the hormone necessary to transform blood sugar into energy. Those with diabetes already suffer from insulin deficiencies. Hence, having insulin production further reduced by colder temperatures means more glucose remains in the bloodstream, and that next glucose meter reading or CGM reading may point to a spike in blood sugar.
Cold weather also can slow blood flow throughout the body. So, if you’re already experiencing diabetes-related complications, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, or diabetic neuropathy, the lower temps could make these issues worse.
For instance, numbness or foot pain caused by nerve damage (diabetic neuropathy) could become more intense if blood flow is impeded due to the cold.
Winter is also flu season.
The annual influenza season usually hits its peak between December and February. For those with diabetes, catching the flu can mean more than just feeling terrible. It puts added stress on the body, which can release hormones to fight infection, which can also elevate blood sugar and make it harder to control.
Comfort food, less activity & the holidays
Some of the significant impacts winter can have on blood sugar are not directly related to colder temperatures. For instance, because we spend more time indoors, winter tends to be when we splurge on comfort foods, which can undoubtedly spike blood sugar. Plus, some major holidays fall during winter, which can mean holiday feasts and a few more cocktails than usual, which can also spike blood sugar. Finally, the colder weather often keeps people indoors, which means they aren’t quite as active as during warmer seasons. This reduction in physical activity can lead to weight gain and make it harder to control blood sugar.
Here Are 7 Great Winter Hacks!
Protect your immune system
Winter is cold and flu season, and while there’s no sure-fire way to avoid catching a bug, you can take certain precautions. For instance, the CDC recommends that anyone with diabetes get an annual flu shot. This not only reduces your chances of catching the flu, but it can also minimize flu symptoms if you do acquire it. As we pointed out earlier, getting sick stresses the body and can elevate blood sugar, making it harder to control. Another way to protect your immune system is by giving it a break. Wash your hands regularly with soap and water. Hand sanitizer is also great, though it can throw off blood glucose readings done with finger pricks and test strips. Just be sure to wash and dry your hands before glucose meter testing.
Test regularly (if not more often than usual)
It’s better to test than to guess. Be sure to test your blood glucose regularly as those cooler temps can impact it. If you’re feeling under the weather, try even more often. Here’s a winter testing tip. Cold hands can make finger pricks and testing more difficult and painful. Go ahead and warm your hands before testing. Hold a cup of warm water; place your hands near a heater, or wrap them up in a cozy sweater for a few minutes before testing.
Pay special attention to your feet
Cold weather can dry the skin, causing it to crack. The heaters used in homes and vehicles also contribute to skin dryness. If you suffer from neuropathy, you might not feel or sense cracks or cuts due to skin dryness. If not properly treated, these tiny wounds can become serious infections. Examine your feet daily and treat any abrasions, cuts, or sores appropriately. Clean with soap and water, dry thoroughly, and cover with a sterile pad or band-aid.
Don’t allow yourself to become too inactive
It’s easy to skip that daily walk, run, or bike ride when the weather outside is frigid. But for those with diabetes, getting in regular physical activity is critical to controlling blood sugar. Join a gym. Download an exercise app. Or bundle up and force yourself to get out there. The ADA’s magic number is at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week. Break it down, and that’s only 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Being active boosts your immune system keeps blood sugar from spiking, and reduces your risk of diabetes-related complications, such as heart disease and kidney disease. So, don’t let winter put a wrench in your fitness routine.
Keep your insulin and supplies out of the cold
Just as extreme heat can affect insulin, so can extreme cold. Insulin solutions can freeze near 32°F, which you want to avoid, but they can also be ineffective if it gets too cold. So, when you’re spending time outdoors and bundling yourself, bundle up your insulin. Carry it in an inside pocket of your winter coat, near your body heat. You can also purchase exceptional carrying cases to protect insulin from heat and cold. Cold can also impact equipment like glucose meters, so ensure they’re not left in the cold either!
Don’t let the gray days impact your positive outlook
For many people, winter's shorter and often grayer days can take a toll on their emotions. If you’re one of them, try to keep yourself busy doing things that make you happy or provide a sense of relaxation. Play music. Read a good book. Paint or sculpt. Do yoga or meditate. A lot of dealing with the winter blues is finding alternatives to keep you fulfilled and focused.
Pay special attention to what you eat.
We’ve already talked about winter being comfort food weather, and a little indulgence in a yummy stew meatloaf or pasta dish is excellent for most people with diabetes. You have to make it a point not to go overboard and not to seek comfort through decadent dishes every day.
Like it or not, winter is here, and for those with diabetes, it brings some added challenges to managing blood sugar. But you know what those challenges are, and that’s half the battle. Every season has its ups and downs, positives and negatives, and working through them all is part of life with diabetes. So have a great winter, and do your best to care for yourself.
We hope you found this post informative and insightful. At Diabetic Warehouse, we’re committed to helping those with diabetes manage blood sugar with a complete selection of testing and treatment supplies at up to 65% less than those found at most pharmacies and suppliers.