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Healthy living: Winter care tips for diabetics

“The recurrent waves of the pandemic have diverted important health resources to tackle one looming challenge. As a result, other prominent diseases like diabetes, which as per the International Diabetes Federation report, affect over 537 million adults globally, are being neglected. So much so, to a greater extent, our attention towards diabetes management has also weakened, and many patients are compensating Covid fatigue with unhealthy lifestyle practices,” say Dr Banshi Saboo, Chairman Diacare Diabetes Hormone Clinic Ahmedabad, Secretary Diabetes India and Dr Amit Gupta, Director Centre for Diabetes Care, Greater Noida & Joint secretary Diabetes India.

The expert add that India is about to become the diabetes capital of the world, being home to a whopping 74 million-plus diabetes patients. “The National Family Health Survey-5 indicates that 17.1 per cent of the adult Indian population suffers from high blood sugar levels and requires medicines to control them. The rampant non-communicable disease is a lifestyle ailment, in which the blood glucose of the human body rises due to its inability to produce or utilise insulin properly,” they say.

Pandemic or not, diabetes patients should be overly cautious, in the winter season.

Common challenges faced by people with diabetes during winter

With a drop in temperature, blood glucose levels (HbA1C i.e. three-month average blood sugar levels and random blood sugar levels) tend to rise in the winter months. The intake of comfort foods (rich in carbohydrates and sugar) increases during winters and leads to sugar levels shooting up.

“Exercising in the cold winter mornings is difficult. Leading a sedentary lifestyle with limited physical activity can increase blood sugar levels as the body is unable to process glucose. Moreover, during winter, people do not feel thirst, and hence, the fluid intake decreases rapidly. As a result, the blood sugar levels rise in the body and increase the urination frequency leading to further dehydration,” they explain.

What should people with diabetes do?

As winter is a time for blood sugar patients to take extra care of their health, the following tips are advised, as suggested by Dr Saboo and Dr Gupta:

Regularly monitor blood sugar levels: People with diabetes need to monitor blood sugar levels regularly and it is advisable to keep a glucometer handy. Check your fasting, postprandial, and random blood sugar levels periodically. Do leverage new applications and devices like the smartphone connected BeatO Curv glucometer and other monitoring devices like Abbott FreeStyle Libre continuous monitoring glucometer which help you record and maintain the readings so that when required you consult your physician with those records.

Observe your feet: It is estimated that around 10 to 15 per cent people with uncontrolled diabetes have to go for doctor consultation due to foot ulcer or infection, which may become very severe and require amputation. Therefore, people living with diabetes must pay attention to their feet by wearing socks and nicely padded shoes and provide necessary attention to their feet. Also the skin tends to get drier due to low humidity in cold weather, and is more likely to develop cracks and infections. Apply moisturiser to keep dry skin at bay.

Hydration: It is important for everyone, and especially for patients with diabetes, to keep them well hydrated. If people are spending much time indoors in a warm environment due to indoor heaters, it is all the more important to drink water; as the indoor heaters suck the humidity out of the air which can cause fluctuation in body temperature.

Exercise: Especially in the pandemic, our life has become more sedentary due to limited outdoor activities. This can actually have an undesirable effect on one’s blood sugar and long term sugar control. It is therefore becoming highly important for patients with lifestyle diseases that they should practice 30 minutes free-hand exercises, stretching or any sporting activity even in indoor settings or engage in yoga. During winter, it gets all the more important to exercise as physical workout decreases even more at that time.

Diet. The sedentary, indoor lifestyle during these COVID times have led to binge eating or needless snacking. To control diabetes, portion control and following a strict dietary regimen is essential. Also do include the seasonal vegetables and fruits which keep the body warm and add necessary nutrients in our bodies. Carrots, beetroots, fenugreek leaves and spinach are some vegetables that can provide the requisite energy and help in the upkeep of blood vessels and maintain appropriate blood flow.

In winter season in India there is a tradition of eating seasonal sweets especially made with jaggery. It is important to know that the sugar content of jaggery is almost the same as white sugar. Regular or seasonal consumption can lead to spikes in sugar values disturbing overall metabolic control.

“Diabetes management is not that difficult. Just by being a little careful about our health, leading a healthy lifestyle, monitoring our blood sugar regularly, and taking medications as prescribed by our physician we can ensure that it never becomes a major challenge during winters or beyond,” they say.