Winter weather and diabetes

Tips for people with diabetes to help stay healthy during the winter season.

A person walking a dog through the snow while holding out their arms.
Photo: Yan Krukau/

For people with diabetes and other chronic conditions, winter weather can produce barriers to better health. Here are some tips to help stay healthy during the winter months.

Blood sugar and colder winter months.

Cortisol, also referred to as the stress hormone, tends to increase during colder temperatures and in turn can raise blood sugar levels. In addition, October through February in Michigan is typically considered flu season, so we are more likely to get sick during those months. Illness of any kind can raise cortisol and therefore blood sugar levels. This is a good time to be diligent in regular blood sugar testing. Talk to your healthcare provider about recommended immunizations. In addition, frequent, thorough handwashing helps reduce the spread of germs.

Comfort food cravings and healthier eating in colder weather.

Colder temperatures can often encourage us to want comfort foods. There’s nothing like a big bowl of steaming hot soup to warm you inside and out on those frigid days. You may find yourself craving foods like stews, casseroles, and pasta dishes more than usual. Try making these dishes healthier by adding extra vegetables or using low-sodium ingredients. Watch your serving sizes and add low-carbohydrate vegetables and salads as your side dishes.

Stay active inside when the weather prevents you from going outdoors.

With snowy, colder weather comes the desire to hibernate. Many people avoid going outside when the weather is bad. Sometimes it’s not safe to go out in icy conditions or heavy rainfalls. However, be careful that you don’t end up hibernating and forgetting to be physically active. Find ways to remain active inside. Put on music and dance. Set up a walking path around your house or apartment even if it’s from the kitchen to the bathroom twenty times. Find community locations where you can walk indoors like the grocery store or a shopping mall.

Use a moisturizing lotion on your feet, legs, arms, and hands to avoid dry skin.

When you have diabetes, you are more likely to develop dry skin during winter weather. To help avoid this, put moisturizing lotion on your feet, legs, arms, and hands every day (especially after bathing). Remember to put moisturizer on your face too, especially if you have dry skin. The air inside our homes is drier in the winter too, leading to drier skin but you can use a humidifier to increase moisture in the air.

Vitamin D and the darker days of winter.

Many of us are affected by the lack of sunshine during the winter months. If you live in an area prone to many days of cloudiness and notice that you seem to lack energy or feel less happy, check with your health care provider because you may need to increase your Vitamin D intake. Vitamin D is made in our bodies from sunshine on our skin so, during winter, try to go outside every day when the sun is shining. If the weather is too cold to go outside, you can also get Vitamin D from some food sources including Vitamin D fortified milk, fish, eggs, and fish oil.

Don’t let winter’s colder, snowy weather stop you from being healthy. Staying physically active and continuing to eat healthy will get you through these winter months and provide you with a great start when warmer weather finally arrives. If you are interested in learning more about managing diabetes and other chronic conditions, consider signing up for one of Michigan State University Extension’s Personal Action Toward Health (PATH) online free series. There are three to chose from, Diabetes PATH, Chronic Disease PATH and Chronic Pain PATH.

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