Summer is a wonderful time of year, full of warm summer days, long walks in the park and on the beaches, cooling breezes, rich colors of deep blue skies, beautiful flowers and trees, birds that chirp and flit about, and much enjoyment. Diabetes needs to be managed differently during this time of year. Here are some suggestions to make summer a safer, healthier, and more enjoyable season.
The heat and sun can be our enemies. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Don’t wait until you are thirsty as thirst can be a sign that you are already experiencing dehydration. Becoming dehydrated can cause high blood sugars and high blood sugars can cause increased urination leading to dehydration. It can be a vicious cycle. To give the water more flavor, try adding lemon or orange slices or sliced strawberries to it. Avoid alcoholic and caffeinated beverages as both can lead to water loss. Be aware that many popular summertime cold drinks like sodas have caffeine.
Wear sunscreen and a hat to avoid getting a sunburn. Sunburn can raise blood sugar levels. Wear light-colored clothing as it will reflect the sun and prevent heat from being absorbed. This will help in remaining cool. Stay in the shade when possible or stay inside in air-conditioning when the day is at its’ hottest. Avoid physical activity in the heat of the day. When heat and humidity are present together, the moisture in the air prevents sweating. Sweating helps the body cool off. In addition, some people with diabetes have a complication that affects their ability to sweat and this puts them at risk for heatstroke and heat exhaustion.
Frequenting Testing and Taking Care of Your Supplies
All people with Type 1 Diabetes and many people with Type 2 Diabetes take insulin. It is important to know that insulin will be absorbed more quickly in warm weather resulting in an increased risk of low blood sugar. More frequent blood glucose monitoring may be required so that adjustments can be made in insulin dosage or food and liquids consumed. Keep insulin in a cooler or specially designed insulated bags or cases. Other injectable diabetes medications should also be kept cold but avoid freezing any liquid diabetes medicines. Not only can heat and humidity affect your medication, but it can also affect blood glucose testing supplies so meters and strips should be stored in a cool location away from heat, humidity, or the sun.
Eat Healthy and Watch Your Portions
Summer also brings with it many pleasurable, often sociable, moments – picnics, cookouts, and a chance to participate in many warm-weather recreational activities. Special treats like ice cream, potato chips, and lemonade become temptations but someone with diabetes can indulge. Ice cream can be eaten on occasion in a reasonable portion or frozen yoghurt can serve as a healthier alternative. Make your own lemonade using fresh lemon juice and an artificial sweetener of your choice. Munch on lower-fat versions of potato chips but, because they are carbohydrates, exercise portion control, and eat them in moderation. Try making your own low carb kale chips.
Picnics are occasions where it is quite easy to overeat. Filling up on sugar-free fluids or having a healthy snack prior can prevent that ravenous hunger from getting the best of you. Good choices for a healthy snack include a small piece of fruit or a serving of yoghurt. When eating your meal, load up on vegetables and salad greens – be the person known for that exotic summer salad – various greens, salad veggies, some fresh summer fruit like strawberry slices or blueberries, and a sprinkle of your favorite crumbled cheese and nuts. You can’t go wrong with a salad like this and you will never be left off the invitation list. Lastly, enjoy that hamburger but make sure the roll is counted in your daily carbohydrate allowance or adjust your insulin or activity level accordingly.
Physical Activity and Footcare
Summertime is the time to engage in different physical activities or to come out of hibernation if you are not a winter sports enthusiast. Physical activities burn carbohydrates, so blood sugar testing is important before, during, and after such activity. Strenuous physical activities such as hiking, cycling, and swimming may cause low blood sugar if you take insulin or specific diabetes medications. Keep quick-acting carbohydrates like heat-stable glucose tablets or sugared candy-like lifesavers with you as well as a healthy snack such as trail mix (mixed nuts, raisins or dried apples plus whole-grain or shredded wheat cereal), or a whole wheat peanut butter or cheese crackers. Walking is a universal physical activity – it requires no special equipment, is inexpensive, and can be done anywhere. Remember that summertime recreational activities require proper footwear – rugged shoes for hiking (to reduce risk of falling and protect your feet), beach shoes for the beach or pool, sturdy sneakers for walking.
Summertime can be an enjoyable time for people with diabetes if special precautions are followed. Remain hydrated, stay cool, check your blood sugar more frequently, keep your diabetes supplies safe, eat healthily, watch your portions, and put on those comfortable, walking shoes, and move.
Caution for COVID-19
During summer with COVID-19, the sun, heat, and humidity can cause increased blood sugar levels which can make people with diabetes more at risk for developing illness from COVID-19. If you have diabetes you should take extra precaution to adhere to safety guidelines such as staying home where required by local regulation and law, and when you are permitted to be out and about, exercise social distancing, wear facemasks, and use proper hand hygiene (you should consider adding hand sanitizer to the diabetes supplies that you routinely carry) and other applicable COVID-19 guidelines in your area.
Debbie Sokol-McKay has been a USA Licensed Occupational Therapist 30 plus years, a Certified Diabetes Educator for more than 20 years and has served as a national speaker in the USA, faculty lecturer, medical product consultant, book author and blogger about pre-diabetes, diabetes, and diabetes with complications.