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Managing Diabetes During a Pandemic – A Tricky Thing

As a medical professional who worked in public health for nearly 25 years, I can tell you that what we are currently experiencing in the United States of America with novel COVID-19 is literally unprecedented. Anticipated influenza outbreaks over recent decades always had a vaccination option. The AIDS epidemic dealt with a virus that was not easily transmitted and had simple protective solutions. Social distancing related to outbreaks of polio, scarlet fever, and diphtheria in the mid-20th century was generally in response to localized outbreaks. During the comparable “Spanish flu” pandemic beginning in 1918 viruses were only a theory, and the highly lethal hemorrhagic diseases like Ebola, Marburg, and Lassa have yet to really "break out" in the U.S. This is a novel experience for us all.

Diabetes management during COVID-19

So, what about managing our diabetes during this period of extreme change? On the one hand, this is not the time for a medical emergency or even a visit to the doctor, but on the other hand, there are many other concerns and worries interrupting our focus. Plus, some of my “standard” advice is more complicated now. Complicated or not, maybe this will help.

Eat healthy

In many places (maybe most) restaurants are closed, and I have written many times, and in a recent article, about how difficult healthy eating can be if we eat out frequently. But not having the “eating out option” doesn’t automatically default to eating healthy at home. On a visit to my supermarket last week the only “plain” frozen vegetable available was okra – everything else was gone! Also gone, every single member of the potato family. In plentiful supply, “junk” food of every stripe, and nothing calls out for junk food like extreme stress. My standard advice – eat healthy whole foods and avoid impulsive eating of less nutritious food products – requires planning first, and changes in plans depending on what’s available during these tricky times.

Remember that frozen and canned fruit and vegetables are just as good as fresh as long as you’re on the lookout for added salt, sugar or fat. If you have snack food around, don’t leave it out in plain sight. And when it comes right down to it, okra is a pretty healthy choice after all – a good source for potassium.

Get more physical activity

Great advice – my standard advice – and for many of us, we now have free time we didn’t have before. But we also have no access to any workout facility and in many locations prohibitions to even taking a walk around the block. I did see a video clip where a guy actually ran a marathon (26.2 miles) by doing 1000 laps around his back yard, but some may consider that impractical. It may not be impractical to do 10 laps or 20 laps around your yard or apartment a few times a day, however. With physical activity, remember that virtually any amount of any combination of aerobic and resistance exercise is better than none, and every little bit improves diabetes management.

Reduce stress

This piece of my standard suite of diabetes management advice is always difficult, but with all that’s coming at us now, I wouldn’t even know where to start. I do know that “social distancing” as a public health tool has worked to interrupt the spread of infectious diseases forever. So, follow the guidelines and take some measure of comfort in history.

I sincerely hope those adversely affected by income loss will be able to access whatever benefits become available to replace a portion of lost income. Don’t hesitate in seeking out assistance if you are unable to acquire your diabetes medications. I know that some manufacturers have made special provisions. Don’t hesitate in seeking out professional psychological advice and support if the stress becomes unbearable – these are incredibly difficult times. And lastly, be assured that this will come to an end.

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