5 Tips for Managing Diabetes in the Cold and Snow

Tips to Help You Manage Diabetes in the Cold and Snow


Before diabetes, we were a winter-loving family. Give us the snow – on a sparkly bluebird sky day, on a thick, movie-set falling snow day, even on a blizzard day, we loved getting out there and playing. Skis were always our top choice, but sleds (my husband was famous among the kiddie community in our town for the sledding jumps he built in our steep back yard each winter), skates, building snow forts or even just jumping around like nuts, we loved our winter fun.

So when my daughter Lauren was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes on a warm autumn New England day when a light sweater was just enough, I found myself thinking ahead. How would we embrace our winter fun?

Thankfully, through good guidance, research and some trial and error, we figured it all out. By the time that first winter season was a wrap (and we were ready to take on beach challenges!), we were winter-time active people with diabetes on board pros.

With the season turning cold now, a lot of parents are asking a lot of questions about winter sports and activities and diabetes. Here are a few tips from a mom who embraced life out in the cold for her entire family – including diabetes.

Check and check again your first time out:

It’s easy for me to tell you what happens when my daughter goes, say, skiing. She can basically eat all the food in the world without blousing and stay in the 80’s all day long. (It’s epic!) But then consider what happens to her good friend who also has diabetes, is the same age and was diagnosed at the same age: she skyrockets. In other words, your outdoor wintertime fun diabetes may vary.

That’s why more than getting advice on dosing from others, you need to live and learn. For us, this involved a first day out on skis (and later sledding) (and later skating) (and so on) when we checked again and again and were prepared for anything. The good news is, once we knew what to expect, we knew how to be ready and better yet, how to embrace our fun day in the cold putting fun first and diabetes second. Tell your child the first time will involve some extra attention, thought and action, but soon, you’ll all be able to just chill. (Get it?)

Sledding is not a passive sport:

You think of it as just gliding down a hill giggling (and that is the best part of it – really!) but sledding, we discovered early on, is quite the cardio event. Climbing up the hill, often dragging a sled along, can sap your energy (and your glucose supply). Kids and adults alike are usually so excited, they sprint up the hill. And in snow boots and sometimes deep snow, it’s even more of a challenge. That’s great! For us, sledding always meant possible low blood sugars. Once we confirmed that was our child’s norm (see above for checking extra the first time you do anything), we cut down on insulin ahead of time, packed plenty of snacks and planned on a yummy, high carb, high protein and fatty snack post sledding. (Hot cocoa with whole milk and a side of Smores, anyone?)

Behold the miracle tool: Your underarm:

Meters can be funky in the cold. They get all huffy and don’t want to work. Even in a pocket, they can get too cold to function. The solution is simple: tuck that meter in your underarm for 30 seconds. It warms right up. No need for it to be directly on skin, just open up your jacket and tuck it under there above your turtleneck material. It’s always toasty in there.

Don’t stress the pump situation:

Look at it this way: you are dressed for the cold and your skin is not the same temp as the outdoors (You’d be in trouble that has nothing to do with diabetes if it were). If you keep your pump under your jacket and a layer but even above a first layer (say, against your long johns), you’re going to be fine. Spibelts and the like are a great idea – worn under the top layers but above the bottom layer.

Carry glucose that does not freeze:

Even soft granola bars can become hard to chew in the cold of your outer jacket pocket. Opt for glucose tabs when out in the winter – they stay stable and are easy to chew even when cold. Tuck a tube in each winter jacket and you’ll never be without them.

Moira McCarthy
Moira McCarthy

Moira McCarthy was pursuing her dream career in active sports journalism when her young daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes in 1997. While she continued on that route, writing for the New York Times Sports and Leisure Division, Snow Country Magazine, Ski Magazine and becoming a daily newspaper sports columnist for the Boston Herald, she also began dedicating much of her life to diabetes advocacy and education.

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