After 15 months of living through a global pandemic, June 20th marks the official start of summer. With a growing percentage of people across the country receiving their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and the province getting back to business as usual, people with diabetes have more than just the virus to worry about to stay safe while getting out and enjoying the warmer weather.
Top 10 tips for staying safe throughout the summer:
1) Stay hydrated. Almost 60% of the body is made up of water. Water is a building block of new cells, helps to transport important nutrients through the body, regulates body temperature, keeps our joints moving smoothly and flushes waste through our kidneys. Hot weather can cause dehydration quickly, leading to spikes in blood sugar. Aim for 2L of water on hot days. Drinking small amounts of water more frequently, e.g. 3-4 times an hour, will do a better job of keeping you hydrated than drinking larger amounts less frequently. As well, drinking water is more hydrating than drinking alcohol, coffee, pop or energy drinks.
2) Stay active. Physical activity increases blood flow at any time of the year, so it’s especially important to keep tabs on your blood sugars when exercising in the heat. Relaxing in a hot tub, jacuzzi or bath can have the same effect. Plan your exercise early in the morning or later in the afternoon during cooler parts of the day. Intense activity in hot weather can lead to heat exhaustion which can make the job of keeping blood sugars in target difficult. Keep insulin pumps dry. Too much exposure to sweat from a workout can cause the pump to malfunction.
3) Stay cool. Go for cover and seek out shade when it’s over 30°C with 40% humidity and limit activity during the hottest part of the day. In hotter temperatures, blood vessels expand causing the body to absorb insulin at a more rapid rate, which can increase the risk of low blood sugars (hypoglycemia). Test blood-sugar levels frequently – especially when being active.
4) Avoid sunburns. The sun’s UV rays can be harmful. Our skin is the body’s first level of protection and should be protected, too. Sunburns cause extra stress on the body, leading to spikes in blood sugars. Using sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher when out enjoying the sun is recommended. A hat and a pair of sunglasses is a great idea, too.
5) Be prepared. Whether you’re enjoying the summer months at home or travelling to a tropical destination, always make sure to carry your diabetes essentials with you; medications, insulin pens, glucometer, test strips and low blood sugar treatment supplies. If you use an insulin pump to manage your diabetes, many pump companies offer loaner programs that allow you to bring an extra pump with you, just you case. Pack extras, including a rechargeable battery pack, when travelling to make sure you have what you need in case of emergency. Ask your doctor for a travel letter to avoid any delays and always carry your diabetes supplies with you in clear plastic bags in your carry-on luggage.
6) Pack snacks. Before any summer road trips or outings, be sure to stock up on low snacks. Snacks can help prevent blood-sugar lows. Spending the day outside can interrupt usual routines, so do your best to stay on schedule, no matter what the day brings. Stocking up on snacks for energy and to help prevent low blood sugars. Bring a cooler to keep your snacks and insulin cool while enjoying the warm weather.
7) Insulate insulin. In temperatures over 30°C, the proteins in insulin can break down and become less effective. If you plan to be outside for 2 hours or more – whether laying on the beach, playing sports, riding in the car, gardening or going for an extended walk – consider a cooling case for your insulin or insulin pump that can help you manage your supply. Be careful not to put insulin directly on an ice or gel pack. Consider getting a Frio wallet; available at our pharmacies. Extreme temperatures can also affect your test strips, glucometer, personal device managers and phones, too.
8) Hot vs humid. When it’s hot, the body sweats to help regulate temperature. The sweat evaporates to help keep you cool. When it’s humid, it can feel up to 15° hotter and sweat doesn’t evaporate as quickly, making it harder to stay cool. Check the humidex in the daily weather report to get a better understanding of both temperature and humidity before making plans.
9) Limit alcohol. The effects of alcohol can feel similar to low blood sugars or heat exhaustion and increase risk of dehydration. Try to include snacks while drinking and alternate alcohol with water. Watch for symptoms like shakiness, dizziness, fatigue, confusion and/or blurred vision and check your blood sugars more often.
10) Enjoy yourself! Managing diabetes is a full-time job. Both physical and mental health is very important to efforts involved in keeping blood sugars in target range. You deserve a break! Get outside, relax and refresh in the fresh air while soaking up some vitamin D while you can!
Use these tips to stay cool, stay safe and enjoy these hot, hazy, humid summer days! Sunlight is essential to both health and well-being as it supports bone health, helps to lower blood pressure, prevents disease, and promotes good mental health. Don’t let diabetes stop you from taking advantage of all that summer has to offer!