Jeanette Terry was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was 11 years old, and she has since lived with diabetes through difficult life transitions, including the teenage years, college, and having children. She addresses the day-to-day struggles of living with diabetes—going beyond medical advice—to improve overall adherence and management.  

As a diabetic, it is easy to catch a cold or flu during the winter because of a weakened immune system. Any kind of sickness or strain on your body can send blood sugar levels on a roller coaster. The key to good diabetes control is to strengthen your immune system so it can fight germs lurking around during the cold weather, or during any weather for that matter.

Here are five suggestions to help maintain a strong immune system:

1. Exercise

Exercise is a vital component of a healthy lifestyle. Exercise can boost your immune system by increasing activity in cells that fight off bacteria. Some studies have suggested that if you participate in moderate exercise a few time a week, you can significantly reduce the number of colds you contract every year.

Exercise also produces endorphins, which will always make you feel better. The mind is a powerful controller, so when you are happy your brain tells your body it is strong.

2. Eat healthy

By eating a balanced diet, you can ensure that your body is getting all the germ-fighting nutrients it needs to arm itself against predators like the flu. Regular healthy meals filled with fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains make you strong—plain and simple.

3. Get enough sleep

Sleep is a very important part of staying healthy, and most people don’t consider it when thinking about improving their health. The body starts to wear down when it doesn’t get sufficient rest. When the body wears down, it becomes vulnerable to sickness.

“A lot of studies show our T-cells go down if we are sleep deprived. And inflammatory cytokines go up,” Diwakar Balachandran, MD, director of the Sleep Center at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center told Web MD. “This could potentially lead to the greater risk of developing a cold or flu.”

4. Reduce stress

Flu season is also holiday season, and the holidays can bring a large amount of unwanted stress if you aren’t careful. While you are busy with holiday preparations and celebrations, make sure you take some time to put your feet up and relax. Your body needs to replenish itself in order to remain strong.

5. Count carbohydrates

The most important aspect of a healthy body for someone living with diabetes is good blood sugar control. The best way to stay in good control is to accurately count the carbohydrates you eat to prevent one bad blood sugar reading from turning into many. Out-of-whack blood sugar levels are a sure way to ruin a healthy immune system. Then not only are you trying to correct your blood sugars, but you are fighting sickness as well. This sickness, in turn, makes your blood sugar levels harder to control, creating a vicious cycle that is difficult to break.

The best thing you can do to stay healthy and control your diabetes is to listen to your body. Don’t overexert yourself, but make sure you are up and moving. Do what makes you feel good—but not for instant gratification. Most importantly, do everything you can to maintain good diabetes control.

To learn more about diabetes and sickness:

10 Diabetes Sick Day Rules
Managing Diabetes When You're Under the Weather
7 Tips for When Diabetes Makes You Call in Sick to Work