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Lifestyle | 6 min. read

Managing diabetes in the time of the coronavirus

The outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019, or COVID-19 for short, has forced millions of people indoors and into isolation or quarantine. At the same time, it has created an infinity of questions about both physical and mental concerns during this period.

In order to provide you with useful information in these corona-ridden times where many are forced to go into quarantine and avoid the outdoors, we have put together a few tips and suggestions you might find useful.

In this article you will find links to third-party material not owned or controlled by Novo Nordisk. We are not responsible for the content or the accuracy of the information provided and have no control over the privacy policies or terms of use of such third-party sites.

and diabetes

If you are living with diabetes, you are not more likely to get COVID-19 than the general population. However, COVID-19 can cause more severe symptoms and complications in some people living with diabetes. It is extremely important that you follow your local regulations, wash your hands and avoid contact with other people. By staying at home, we can help ourselves and each other.

Check out more information about COVID-19 and diabetes on the International Diabetes Federation website and always rely on your local trusted sources.

You can also visit novonordisk.com.

and medical supplies

Are you concerned about not having constant access to your diabetes medicines during this unusual time?

General advice is not to start stockpiling medicines. In line with the advice we all receive about shopping for groceries, try to stick to your normal routines when it comes to your medication. Many people with diabetes offer advice online on how to manage during the lockdown, such as Renza on her blog Diabetogenic.

If you are interested in further information about medicine supply, go to novonordisk.com for more.

1. Shopping for groceries

If you have seen news reports on people “panic buying” at the local supermarket, you may have wondered: Is there a need to change the way I do grocery shopping? And what food items should I favour at this particular moment in light of my diabetes?

First off, if you already have a meal plan that works for you, there is no need to let extraordinary conditions force you to give it up. When shopping for food, why not explore items containing carbohydrates with a low Glycaemic Index. These carbs are also called slow-acting (or slow-release) complex carbs, and here’s a blog post that tells you all about why they’re important.

Here are some foods rich in slow-release carbs: brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa, farro, millet, bulgur, pearl barley, peas, beans, lentils, sweetcorn and pumpkin. “Wholemeal” breads, pastas and crackers should also be on your shopping list.

A great idea is to look up exciting recipes online so can you give your low-GI ingredients the best possible culinary framing. For instance, did you know that pearl barley alone opens up a wealth of mouth-watering possibilities. You can find some great inspiration here.

If you put new-found time to good use by developing your kitchen skills, you may even gain relief from moments of anxiety or boredom.

2. Feel like snacking all the time?

When you are working or spending a lot of time at home, the fridge might seem closer than ever. This can make it difficult to keep to your regular snack schedule. A great way to challenge yourself is to see if you can add any new delicious and healthy snacks to your “classics”.

There are plenty of exciting recipes online. At one webpage we found recipes for pear guacamole with pistachios, BBQ deviled eggs with turkey bacon, roasted zucchini fried with parmesan, cucumber bites with hummus and tomatoes, cold pea soup with crab and mint, smoky black bean dip and more… Mmm! Sound delicious? Discover more here.

Low-carb snacks

When preparing snacks, try to include these ingredients:

Meat, fish, seafood, eggs, cheeses and butter

Aspargus, spinach,
broccoli, mushrooms,
bell peppers and avocado

If you want to get creative and invent some new snacks yourself, bear in mind that there are very few carbs in meat, fish, seafood, eggs, cheeses, butter, asparagus, spinach, broccoli, mushrooms, bell peppers and avocado.

3. Feeling anxious?

Being forced to stay inside with a limited social calendar can cause your mind to act in unexpected ways. Add to that an undoubtedly very serious pandemic like COVID-19 and it is not surprising if you feel anxious. The problem with anxiety is that it can distort your thinking and affect your behaviour in ways which may in the long run prevent you from living the best life you could be living.

So while responding with anxiety to something is sometimes reasonable, let’s discuss different ways to reduce the risk and impact of anxiety and discomfort.

Learning to breathe and be mindful

Breathing exercises are a highly effective way of improving your mental health and minimising anxiety. Aside from helping you become more mindful in general, these easy-to-learn exercises come with a number of benefits:

  • They help you relax and focus more.
  • They are proven to (help you) reduce your stress levels.
  • They increase your control of emotions.
  • They can help you sleep better at night.

Breathing exercises can promote mental health, minimise anxiety, sharpen your focus and more.

A few tips before you start your breathing session:

  • Be mindful of your posture. Sit or stand straight, without stiffness, and keep your shoulders back.
  • Limit your attention to observing your own respiratory movements.
  • Be aware of each inhale and exhale and focus on the sensations you feel as air enters your body through your nose and throat and fills your chest.
  • When you notice your thoughts drifting, redirect your attention to your breath without giving the distraction a second thought.
  • Breathe ”through your stomach”. In other words, pretend that you’re inflating your belly by inhaling, then swell your chest. As you exhale, reverse the process.
  • Think reassuring thoughts while breathing. A useful example is: “I am inhaling calm, I am exhaling stress”. But you can of course get creative and create your own silent mantra.

As with everything, practice and patience are key. So why not experiment and find out what works best for you? You are likely to feel more relaxed and in charge of your body and mind the longer you stick to your mindfulness routine. There are plenty of mindfulness and breathing exercise apps that you can download, for instance Headspace, Calm, Breathe, Zen Calm, Panic Relief, Aura and many more.

Anxiety can for some people be worsened by isolation. If this matches your experience, there is a simple piece of advice: Connect with friends, family and colleagues online, put your phone to use, turn on your webcam and send messages to check up on friends and family. This is a time to explore and be grateful for all the forms of social interaction that apps and the Internet have given us. Ever tried simultaneously watching the same film with friends in different locations and doing a little live commentating on webcam while watching?

Connect with people online, put your phone to use, turn on your webcam and send messages to check up on friends and family.

4. Tips for exercising at home

Exercise can make it easier to manage stress as well as the symptoms of diabetes. Many people are able to live well with diabetes thanks to a combination of medication, health education, a food plan tailored just to them and exercise. Regular exercise can increase insulin sensitivity, which means that your blood sugar is allowed to enter your muscle cells and provide you with energy instead of causing hyperglycaemia – aka spiking blood sugar levels. Exercise also increases the ability of your muscles to store and use sugar for energy, even without insulin, which has a stabilising effect on your blood sugar levels.

In times of restricted movement, for instance during a lockdown or quarantine, you can still do weight or strength training at home. If you don’t own a set of dumbbells, use water bottles. If you need something heavier and have the option to go for a walk, then try to collect pebbles or sand to put into empty milk jugs or plastic bottles. If you happen to have any elastic or resistance bands, these are also useful but not a must.

Scientists have found that weight training can lead to better blood sugar control and lower the risk of complications for people with diabetes. This is because weight training builds muscle mass, which makes it much easier to achieve steady blood sugar levels.

A few extra tips to build your muscles indoors:

  • Start out with a few simple stretching exercises. Exercise your joints and muscles for 5 minutes in the morning and 10 in the evening.
  • Why not look for good videos that match your fitness? Many fitness centres make such videos available online.
  • Try to do 3 sessions per week, and remember to schedule a rest day between workouts.
  • Stay hydrated and pay attention to your blood sugar levels before, during and after physical activity.
  • Try to get your pulse up too. Doing steps – up and down stairs or on a stepper – is a great way to manage diabetes in the privacy of your home.

    You might also take this opportunity to reach out to your network online and ask them for tips. There are many untapped indoor exercise possibilities – from yoga and tai chi to pilates and zumba. Again, many fitness centres offer great video material for free.

Why not look for good videos that match your fitness? Many fitness centres make such videos available online.

COVID-19 is a challenge for us all

In periods of uncertainty, healthy habits and good routines are crucial. Make sure to follow your meal plan, stick to your exercise routine (or start a new one), look for pleasure in indoor activities, connect with others virtually and put yourself in the best physical and mental shape possible.

The #STAYHOME Wellness Challenge

To help you do those things at home at a time when COVID-19 has forced people to adopt quarantine-like conditions, the #STAYHOME Wellness Challenge (inspired by Personal Revolution Fitness) has got you covered.

Don’t accept boredom as a new part of life. In this digital age you can actually combat social isolation during quarantine. Why not get ambitious and motivate each other to do something new? View your newfound time as an invitation to challenge yourself and those closest to you – all while having fun!

Here’s how the challenge works:

Print out the scoreboard (link below) and hang it on your fridge. Or, if you challenge people remotely, send them a link to a Google Doc and use that instead.

Each participant scores a point each time he/she performs a task on the sheet. Every week, keep track on the scoreboard of who is leading. The winner of the challenge is the person with the highest score after 4 weeks.


Icon showing a man exercising with two weights.

Be creative when designing tasks.

Icon showing a trophy.

Motivate participants to compete! Choose a prize worth winning.

You design the challenge yourself, so get creative! Here are some suggestions for how participants can score 1 point:

  • Get 7 hours of sleep.
  • Do a 5-minute warm-up session in the morning. Either agree on which exercises to do or let everyone “freestyle”.
  • Get a proper lunch break. Sit at the table and try not to pay attention to your phone or other screens.
  • Get 10 minutes of fresh air. If a walk is not possible, sit on the balcony or in a garden.
  • Do an afternoon workout for 10 minutes either by following a workout video on YouTube or using a fitness app. You can also try to freestyle.

If you have kids, include such child-friendly tasks as:

  • Cooking together
  • Reading a story
  • Walking the dog
  • Cleaning 5 toys

Don’t forget to announce a prize for the winner of the 4-week challenge. You may decide to stimulate participants’ motivation by awarding small prizes at the end of every week too.

The #STAYHOME Wellness Challenge is just one example of how friends and family members can stay motivated and healthy at a time when, due to quarantines and cities in lockdown, it is extra important to find something meaningful to do, stay healthy and manage your chronic condition the best way possible.

We wish you all a lot of fun with the challenge!


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