The following blog was contributed by Bruce Weiss, M.D., M.P.H., Market Medical Director, UnitedHealthcare of Wisconsin
Each winter, the cold weather and holiday festivities can bring special challenges to the nearly 26 million Americans living with diabetes – and the 79 million with prediabetes who are at gravest risk of developing it.
With the season fast approaching, experts caution people with diabetes and prediabetes to take extra care to avoid cold-related illnesses, stay physically active and maintain a proper diet during holiday gatherings and the long winter months.
“The winter holidays bring family and friends together to celebrate but for some, this time of the year means a decrease in physical activity, tempting ‘no-no foods,’ and an increase in weight gain, all of which can make blood sugar more difficult to manage,” says Deneen Vojta, M.D., executive vice president and chief clinical officer of the Diabetes Prevention and Control Alliance (DPCA). “Fortunately, there are simple precautionary steps that people with diabetes and prediabetes can take this winter and holiday season.”
Here are 10 simple ways Dr. Vojta and the DPCA say people can tell diabetes “NOT ME” ™ this winter and enjoy the holiday season without risking their health. “NOT ME,” from the Diabetes Prevention and Control Alliance (DPCA), is an employer- and community-based initiative aimed at tipping the scales against the epidemic of type 2 diabetes, prediabetes and obesity.
- Keep Yourself and Your Gear Warm: Dress appropriately for the cold weather, which means wearing layers and keeping your head and extremities covered. And be sure to keep your diabetes medications and supplies insulated and well-protected.
- Avoid Winter Weight Gain: Watch your caloric intake, look for holiday treats that are lighter in sugar and carbohydrates, and make sure to keep exercising during the cold winter month.
- Don’t Get Cold Feet: Keep your toes covered and warm in the cold weather.
- Get Vaccinated: Studies have shown that people with diabetes are three-times as likely to die from influenza or pneumonia, and five-times more likely to be hospitalized due to flu complications. So be sure to get vaccinated at the very start of cold and flu season.
- Wash Your Hands: Another good way to avoid getting colds or respiratory viruses over the holidays is to wash your hands regularly with hot water and soap and/or an antibacterial product.
- Eat Thoughtfully and Be Merry, but Watch the Drink: Alcoholic beverages dilate blood vessels and accelerate the loss of body heat. Alcohol can also mask the signs of low blood sugar, which can be dangerous for people with diabetes. So be mindful of alcohol intake, especially at office holiday parties and family gatherings.
- Seek Counseling If You’re Feeling Blue: Several studies suggest a correlation between diabetes and depression, a disease which is also known to spike each year around holiday time. If you’re feeling low, sluggish, devoid of energy, or sad, do not be afraid to reach out for help.
- Check In On the Elderly: Seniors are even more susceptible to succumbing to the effects of the cold due to a reduced ability to control body temperature and a decrease of subcutaneous fat. Check in on your elderly friends and neighbors this holiday season, especially those that live alone.
- Stay Hydrated. Alternating exposure to outdoor cold weather with indoor heating systems is a recipe for dehydration, which can raise blood glucose levels and cause dry skin and eyes. Drink lots of water and liberally apply alcohol-free moisturizing lotion throughout the winter months.
- Strive for a Stress-Free Season: Stress has been shown to affect blood sugar levels, so find ways to make your holiday season a little less hectic whether that means managing your social calendar or making detailed shopping lists in advance.
These tips can help people with diabetes and prediabetes stay healthy this winter; however, national data suggests that more than 27 percent of adults with type 2 diabetes and more than 90 percent of individuals with prediabetes may not even be aware of their condition. To learn the warning signs of prediabetes and assess one’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes visit the DPCA’s interactive self-identification quiz.
Additional resources on managing and preventing diabetes can be found by visiting the American Diabetes Association (www.diabetes.org) and the National Diabetes Education Program (http://ndep.nih.gov/resources). UnitedHealth Group also offers helpful tips and information on the disease at http://www.unitedhealthgroup.com/diabetes.