Living with diabetes blog

Avoid cold-weather pitfalls when you have diabetes

By Nancy Klobassa Davidson, R.N. and Peggy Moreland, R.N. January 23, 2013

My son, who has type 1 diabetes, recently mentioned that his insulin needs are higher in the winter. Do you find that your blood sugar levels and A1C are a little higher in the colder months? If you do, it might not be the colder weather itself that's responsible. Colder months provide a couple big potential pitfalls for diabetes management.

For example, from November to February, colder months in many places, there are several holidays that typically surround you with tempting foods, generally high in calories and carbohydrates. And if you live in northern climates, you're also dealing with extended winters that can discourage you from getting enough exercise.

Add together holiday foods and decreased activity and what do you get? Often times, you get weight gain and a decreased metabolism.

Here are some simple ways to enjoy colder weather without risking your health.

Test your blood sugar regularly to help you catch high or low blood sugar levels and keep your sugar levels under control.

Increase physical activity, even just a little activity such as a short walk a day. If it's too cold for that, be active in the comfort of your own living room with activities such as walking or jumping in place with an exercise DVD or exercise games on the Nintendo Wii or Xbox Kinect. I like to take an extra walk around a department store in winter months. Physical activity helps your blood sugar levels in several ways:

  • It keeps you warm! And the effects last beyond the time when you're actually exercising.
  • It keeps your mind active, too.
  • It increases sensitivity to insulin, which helps your body use insulin better, meaning you'll need less insulin.
  • It can affect your blood sugar for up to 48 hours, so if you take insulin, keep in mind that you may need to adjust your insulin dose.

Be mindful of what you eat — people tend to eat more during the winter months because of holidays, less daylight or shorter days and boredom. I find that I do best if I generally eat healthy meals and snacks and watch portion sizes.

Stay healthy — illness makes diabetes harder to control.

  • Get an influenza shot and pneumonia shot, as recommended by your doctor.
  • Stay home if you aren't feeling well.
  • Test your blood sugar more frequently for any rising trends.
  • Wash your hands regularly with hot water and soap or use hand sanitizer to avoid getting colds or respiratory viruses. I'm always mindful of washing my hands more frequently after shopping or a group activity. Many public places now offer antibacterial hand cleaner by the exit.

Seek counseling if you're feeling low, sluggish or sad. Don't be afraid to seek help! Winter months leave many people feeling blue. The stress of the holidays, finances, unpleasant cold weather and lack of sunlight can all contribute to depression. Being active and eating healthy foods also can help.

Stay hydrated — it can be a dry time of year, whether you're outside in the cold weather or inside with a heater. Drink plenty of fluids, and apply lotions to avoid dry skin.

Have a great week!


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Jan. 23, 2013