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Diabetes Winter Health Guide: Holiday And Cold Weather Safety Tips

This winter, UnitedHealth Group’s Diabetes Prevention and Control Alliance (DPCA) is reminding the nearly 26 million Americans living with diabetes – and the 79 million with prediabetes who are at grave risk of developing type 2 diabetes – to take precautions to help them stay healthy during the cold weather and holiday season.

In addition to managing the busy schedules, holiday stress, and temptations of rich food and drink that winter celebrations herald, people living in colder climates also might find it more challenging to get regular exercise this time of year than during warmer months. This lack of physical activity could lead to weight gain and a slowdown in metabolism, both of which can lead to significant health issues for people living with diabetes or prediabetes.

“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,” said 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 and the DPCA offer these 10 simple tips to help people with diabetes and prediabetes enjoy a healthier winter and holiday season:

  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 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 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 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.
  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 him or her the best seasonal gift of all – check in 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 apply alcohol-free moisturizing lotion throughout the winter months.
  10. Strive for a stress-free season: Stress affects 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.

Dr. Vojta reminds people living with diabetes or prediabetes, “Talk to your doctor to find out if these suggestions and information are right for you.”

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