Type 1 Diabetes and Exercise: How to Keep Active in the Winter
Exercise is an extremely important factor in managing Type 1 diabetes. However, staying active during the colder winter months can prove a little more problematic since colder temperatures can have a big effect on our diabetes care routine.
But while staying active during the colder months can be more difficult, it’s also more important since the colder weather and bleaker days can push many people to adopt a more sedentary lifestyle. That, in turn, can contribute to higher blood pressure, lower energy levels, trouble sleeping, and even depression, to which the diabetes community is already pre-disposed. Plus, the winter months are known for having higher A1C levels than other months, and exercise is a great way to manage your blood sugar.
Luckily there are some easy ways to stay active with diabetes – even when the temperatures are freezing.
Get the Right Gear
The first place to start with planning for winter activities is to make sure you have the right apparel. Before heading out, remember that the right activewear and layering can make all the difference. Don’t forget to start with a thin layer that will wick away sweat, followed by a layer that will insulate your body (like fleece), and then topped off with a waterproof jacket. Also, wear shoes that have traction and won’t cause slipping on icy or snow-covered ground.
We find that it’s also a good idea to find a winter athletic jacket that also has ample pocket space because you’re going to want to carry some diabetes supplies with you – especially if you’re hiking or skiing or somewhere where you might not be able to easily and quickly reach your bag or backpack.
As far as diabetes supplies goes, you should always have glucose tablets, your glucometer and some testing strips, and your insulin pen while you’re out. Keep in mind that some of these devices might be affected by a drop in temperature, so we always like to keep them in a jacket pocket – preferably one that’s facing the interior so that you don’t have to worry about the possibility of losing them.
Protect Your Insulin and Double Check Your Devices
Freezing temperatures can ruin insulin by making it separate and clump once it thaws out, so finding ways to keep your insulin from freezing is very important. Other winter outdoor enthusiasts have recommended FRIO wallets, like the ones we’ve covered before, as a way to insulate your insulin while skiing or being outdoors in cold weather. There’s a really great resource at Runsweet, a user-generated site that discusses the effects of all types of sports on Type 1 diabetes.
Another thing to be aware of is that many devices (such as a BGM) can stop working or produce inaccurate readings in high altitude or extremely cold weather. Read the instructions on your device to see what, if any, limitations it has in cold weather and various altitudes.
Check Your Blood Sugar More Frequently
While Skiing, snowboarding, tubing, sledding, and snowshoeing are all popular winter sporting activities, there’s a couple of things to be aware of before hitting the slopes.
Your body has different ways of staying warm, and this can wreak havoc with your blood sugar. In very cold weather, your body can react to stress by releasing cortisol and adrenaline, which causes the liver to release more glucose. This is where having your testing supplies nearby will come in handy. Be sure to test more frequently and remember to stay hydrated. Also, make sure that your hands and feet are well insulated, especially your feet since the dry winter air combined with dehydration can make you susceptible to skin infections.
Staying active in the winter with diabetes can sometimes require a little motivation, but the benefits of keeping a healthy and active lifestyle with diabetes far outweigh the preparation needed to make staying active outdoors as safe and enjoyable as possible.
How do you stay active during the winter time? What sports and outdoor activities do you participate in to maintain a healthy lifestyle? Let us know in the comments!