If you’ve noticed that managing your diabetes gets more challenging when the seasons change, it’s not your imagination!
For people with diabetes, changing temperatures can affect biological factors such as blood sugar levels. The start of a new season can also mean vacations, holiday gatherings and travel, things that should also be considered when it comes to tweaking your diabetes care routine.
Cold Weather Challenges
Brrrr! People with diabetes can experience the signs of hyperglycemia when temperatures drop. This is not a coincidence! Fall and winter months bring specific challenges for people with diabetes and it’s not uncommon for blood sugar levels to rise in colder weather.¹
Let’s get cozy!
One way in which cold weather can affect people with diabetes is that during the cold months, we're more likely to stay inside, under a cozy blanket. After all, a comfy couch and fluffy slippers are much more appealing than the icy outdoors, right? Unsurprisingly, the more sluggish, the more your circulation slows.
There are also non-lifestyle factors that can impact your diabetes. If you are prone to seasonal flu and colds, be aware that these ailments can cause your blood sugar levels to rise. And what’s more, colder temperatures themselves also directly affect blood sugar.¹
People with diabetes should also be aware that slower circulation can lead to more susceptible complications in the winter, such as chilblains.² This painful condition affects hands and feet after exposure to cold weather. Once you’ve experienced these red, patchy, or blistering areas, they may recur in future winters.
Wintertime Health Tips
We know, we know, you’ve heard it a thousand times before... but tweaking your diet and exercise routine can help ease the burden of these wintertime challenges.³ Making efforts to eat well and work out can help with boosting your immune system, stabilizing your blood sugar and increasing circulation.
Getting a flu shot is a great idea. This can reduce the frequency and severity of wintertime illnesses. Other top tips include:
● Add more antioxidant rich foods to your diet to boost your immune system, including leafy greens, berries, sweet potatoes, carrots, beets and legumes.
● Make a plan to work out a few times a week, whether it’s through workout videos at home, or with a gym buddy to help keep you motivated.
● Keep your extremities protected with warm, waterproof mittens or gloves, along with boots that aren’t too tight-fitting.
The Holiday Minefield
During wintertime, some things are just out of our hands. Take the weather, for example. Unfortunately, you can’t control the fog or the rain. The good news is, you can control your diet.
The bad news is, the holiday season can test our willpower to the max! Between tempting treats, hectic schedules and travel, the holidays come with their own set of seasonal challenges for people with diabetes.⁴
● If there’s one starchy side dish or sweet dessert that really makes the holiday for you, stick to that one treat and try to focus on lean proteins and lower-carb veggies for the rest of your meal.
● Don’t show up to the holiday meal starving, or forget to eat if you’re the one hosting the festivities. It’s extra important to keep your blood sugar levels steady prior to an indulgent meal or party.
● When you overindulge during a single holiday gathering, don’t fret about the fallout. Be extra cautious about your meals for the following day or two, and make sure to get in some cardio.
● Traveling for the holidays? Make sure you don’t skip meals in your rush to catch a plane or beat the traffic. Bring healthy snacks from home if possible.
Warm Weather Dangers
It doesn’t seem fair, but people with diabetes can also face challenges during warm weather. When it comes to the summertime, dehydration is a big issue due to the increased heat and “fun in the sun” activities. And dehydration, especially for people with diabetes, is a BIG no-no. People often forget that they need to up their liquid intake during warmer months to compensate for increased fluid loss.
When you lose fluid through sweating, less blood is carried through the kidneys, which results in a lower blood sugar.⁵ Higher temperatures alone can cause sweating, but when combined with activities like frisbee, hiking, and even barbecuing, perspiration will increase much more. Even swimming poses a hidden danger, because you can’t tell how much you’re sweating in the water.
As is often the case for people with diabetes, these challenges can lead to complications further down the line. Some people with diabetes have nerve damage to their sweat glands, which prevents the body from cooling itself down properly.⁶ This can lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
So make extra efforts to keep that thirst quenched, especially in the heat! Stay cool and stay hydrated.
Summertime Health Tips
Staying hydrated is the most important measure when it comes to managing your diabetes in warm weather. If you’ve arrived at a location where there isn’t as much to drink as you need, make sure to stay out of the sun and avoid overexertion. Check with your doctor before going on a hike, beach trip or other active adventure. They may recommend adjusting your insulin dosage before activities.
It’s not always necessary to seek medical treatment if you experience dehydration as a person with diabetes. Take the following steps first:
● Stop whatever activity you were doing and get into some shade.
● Start drinking fluids. Avoid sugary sodas and “sports/energy drinks.”⁷ If given a choice, the best option is always water. After that, unsweetened iced tea, or club soda are also good options. Diet sodas or juices without added sugar are also acceptable.
● Monitor yourself for symptoms. If you don’t feel better after getting out of the sun and drinking fluids, watch out for symptoms such as confusion and disorientation, extreme fatigue and dark urine.
● When in doubt, call your doctor or visit an after-hours clinic. Make sure whoever you consult is aware of your diabetes as a potentially complicating factor.
Safeguarding Meds and Equipment
Finally, take into account that seasonal changes can also throw off the effectiveness and accuracy of your medication and testing supplies.
Don’t leave your much needed supplies in the car or in an unheated lobby when the temperatures are extreme outside. Take whatever you can with you inside. Insulated cases are also helpful.⁸
In the summer, use a cooler that plugs into a car lighter to keep your supplies at the proper temperature. Insulated cases can help protect whatever you need to take out of the car and bring with you.⁹
All of the information in this article is based on the following sources:
1. Beyond Type 1, 2020. Cold Weather and Type 1 Diabetes. [webpage] Available at: https://beyondtype1.org/cold-weather-and-type-1-diabetes/ [Accessed 19/01/21].
2. Mayo Clinic, 2020. Chilblains. [webpage] Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/chilblains/symptoms-causes/syc-20351097 [Accessed 18/01/2021].
3. Diabetes Self Management, 2019. Diabetes Winter Tips. [webpage] Available at: https://www.diabetesselfmanagement.com/about-diabetes/general-diabetes-information/diabete s-winter-tips/#:~:text=Guard%20your%20diabetes%20supplies&text=Don't%20leave%20your% 20insulin,as%20the%20FRIO%20insulin%20case [Accessed 19/01/2020].
4. The Johns Hopkins Patient Guide to Diabetes, 2020. Healthy Holiday Eating Using Mindfulness. [webpage] Available at: https://hopkinsdiabetesinfo.org/healthy-holiday-eating-using-mindfulness/ [Accessed 19/01/2021].
5. Diabetes Care Community, 2019. Diabetes and Seasonal Changes. [webpage] Available at: https://www.diabetescarecommunity.ca/living-well-with-diabetes-articles/diabetes-management articles/diabetes-and-seasonal-changes/ [Accessed 19/01/2021].
6. Cleveland Clinic, 2020. How to Manage Your Diabetes in Extreme Summer Heat. [webpage] Available at: https://health.clevelandclinic.org/how-to-manage-your-diabetes-in-extreme-summer-heat/ [Accessed 19/01/2021].
7 American Diabetes Association, 2020. What Can I Drink? [webpage] Available at: http://main.diabetes.org/dforg/pdfs/Collabs/sodastream-what-can-i-drink-tips.pdf [Accessed 19/01/2021].
8 Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, 2016. Hot Tips for Managing Diabetes in Cold Weather. [webpage] Available at: https://www.chop.edu/news/hot-tips-managing-diabetes-cold-weather [Accessed 19/01/2021].
9 Piedmont Healthcare, 2021. Change in Temperature Can Affect Blood Sugar Levels. [webpage] Available at: https://www.piedmont.org/living-better/change-in-temperature-can-affect-blood-sugar-levels [Accessed 19/01/2021].
The mySugr website does not provide medical or legal advice. mySugr blog articles are not scientific articles, but intended for informational purposes only.
Medical or nutritional information on the mySugr website is not intended to replace professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always consult a physician or health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.