Hiking for Diabetes
Health Guide April 27, 2006
We keep reading about people who walk hundreds if not thousands of miles to promote a cure for diabetes. I’m not sure how that is going to work, although it will certainly help the health of the walker.
Anyway, I would rather hike than walk. The difference is subtle, and the esteemed Oxford English Dictionary captures what hiking is: “To walk for pleasure; to go for a long walk, or walking tour, specifically in the country.”
Nothing invigorates me more than getting away from the city and its sidewalks. When I am alone in the wilds, I am as happy as I ever am.
Of course, most people don’t consider it a good idea to go hiking alone, particularly for safety. But when you hike with others, as Colin Fletcher, writes in The Complete Walker, “You never quite learn, for instance, that one of the riches a wilderness has to offer is prolonged and absolute silence.”
An iPod certainly isn’t a necessity on a hike. Music might help blot out the surroundings when you are walking on busy streets, but when you are hiking, much of the pleasure is to absorb the silence and the sounds of the woods and the meadows.
I savor the silence and the sounds of the trail and do not rush through it. I am certainly not a fast hiker. Whenever someone passes me on the trail, I remember my saying:
It’s the deed
Not the speed
I coined that saying for my article “Exercise for People with Type 2 Diabetes”. In fact, I believe it more strongly now than ever.
You don’t need nearly as much equipment for a day hike as you do when you go backpacking. One of the reasons, in fact, why I prefer day hikes is because you don’t have to carry your house on your back. When I was younger and regularly took four or five day hikes in the wilderness, I took my a whole house in my backpack, including sleeping bag, tent, stove and food.
In fact, I just found my old “backpacking checklist” when I opened up my 1974 edition of Colin Fletcher’s book. It listed 50 items I had to take.
If you aren’t planning to go out overnight, you can skip the heavy things. You can get by with a daypack or even just a fanny pack for an afternoon jaunt.
The most important accessory that you need when you start hiking is a good pair of lightweight hiking boots. Running, tennis or basketball shoes don’t give you enough stability or protect you from twisting an ankle when you make an inevitable misstep. Hiking boots give you more lateral support than other sport shoes. Try on different boots at a well-stocked store. Flex your feet, wiggle your toes and walk around until you find a pair that feels comfortable. Never count on breaking in uncomfortable boots.
Second in importance is a pair of heavy socks to protect your feet from any chafing that the boots might cause.
Next in importance is water. I always carry a bottle of water in my pack.
Nowadays, my fanny pack carries all that I need. Food isn’t a necessity unless it is an all-day trip. I don’t use insulin or a sulfonylurea, but if you use either of them, glucose tabs certainly are a necessity.
I think that a walking staff is a necessity. While I seldom see other hikers with a walking staff, I am so used to carrying one – particularly when going down a steep hill – that I can’t imagine hiking without one.
For about 20 years my walking staff was a bamboo pole that came with a rug wrapped around it. With a crutch tip on the end to avoid slipping and clattering, it was light weight and completely satisfactory until the bamboo began to crack. Nowadays, I use an even lighter walking staff that I got at REI.
With luck, our hikes will be on sunny days. For me that means wearing a hat with a wide brim and applying suntan lotion.
In most parts of the country the other thing we need to apply before going out for a hike is insect repellent. For years the choice was limited to products made with DEET. Now, however, we have picaridin, which is just as effective and a lot more pleasant. A brand called Cutter Advanced contains picardin. This spring Cutter introduced wipes with picardin, which are even more convenient than the typical spray can.
While I seldom carry a flashlight because I don’t plan on being out after dark, I have been surprised. Once when the trip was longer than expected, it took me hours to find my car on a pitch-black night. I had my flashlight, but had failed to check the batteries, and they were dead.
If you need help, some people suggest carrying a whistle. Instead, I usually carry my cell phone. However, some of my best hikes in the wilds were so far from civilization that I was out of range of the cell phone towers.
Except for time, this is all we need for a day hike. While hiking is exercise – which those of us with diabetes particularly need – I think of it as fun. In fact, I’m going to stop right here, because I’m off for a jaunt in Eldorado Canyon this afternoon.
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