As the winter holidays approach, with their cold weather and abundant food temptations, Minnesota-based UnitedHealth Group is offering 10 simple tips people with diabetes and prediabetes should follow to help stay healthy.
The tips were developed by the Diabetes Prevention and Control Alliance, a partnership between UnitedHealth Group, YMCA of the USA, and select retail pharmacies. Alliance programs are based on research funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health.
“The holiday season is a special time of year for many families, but it also presents its own set of challenges and temptations for people living with diabetes or prediabetes,” says Deneen Vojta, M.D., senior vice president of Business Initiatives and Clinical Affairs at UnitedHealth Group and chief clinical officer of the Diabetes Prevention and Control Alliance. “Fortunately, there are steps people can take to avoid overindulging, lack of physical activity, and sugar levels ‘running a bit high’ during the festive season.”
Dr. Vojta advises people living with diabetes or prediabetes to talk to their doctors to find out if these suggestions and information are right for them.
1. Keep Yourself and Your Gear Warm: Dress appropriately for the cold weather, which means wearing layers and keeping your head and extremities covered. Also, be sure to keep your blood glucose meter, medications, and other diabetes supplies insulated and well-protected.
2. Avoid Winter Weight Gain: Many tempting, traditional holiday foods are loaded with carbohydrates, which can cause blood sugar levels to spike. The cold also can discourage people from exercising or participating in outdoor sports, all of which can contribute to significant 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 winter months (even if that means doing seated stretching exercises at your desk, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, making regular laps around the office, school or mall, etc.)
3. Don’t Get Cold Feet: It is important for people with diabetes – and especially people with neuropathy – to keep their toes covered and warm in the cold weather. Avoid hot water bottles or electric blankets, and wear several pairs of loose-fitting socks and slippers instead.
4. Get Vaccinated: Studies have shown that people with diabetes are three times more 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 the cold and flu season.
5. 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.
6. Eat Thoughtfully and Be Merry, but Watch the Alcohol: 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.
7. Seek Counseling If You’re Feeling Blue: Several studies suggest a correlation between diabetes and depression, with rates of depression increasing as diabetes complications worsen. Depression also is 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.
8. Check In on the Elderly: Seniors are even more susceptible to the effects of the cold due to a reduced ability to control body temperature and a decrease of subcutaneous fat. If you know an elderly person who lives alone and suffers from diabetes and/or other chronic illnesses, give that person the best seasonal gift of all – check in on him or her regularly during the holidays.
9. 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.
10. Strive for a Stress-Free Season: Stress has been shown to affect blood sugar levels, so try to make your holiday season a little less hectic. That can mean making sure you’re not overextending yourself and keeping your social schedule and shopping lists manageable.