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Want to spend more time outdoors? Whether you dream of exploring pine-covered mountains, sandy seashores, or red-rock desert canyons, there’s no need to let diabetes prevent you from enjoying a good hike. Simple plans and precautions such as these can help get you safely on your way:
First, talk with your doc. Make sure your hike is a good match for your physical ability, especially if it’s been a while since you exercised regularly. Will you be on flat terrain or climbing hills? Hiking for an hour or all day? Carrying a heavy backpack? Your healthcare provider needs to know how strenuous your outing will be so he or she can give you the all-clear or suggest modifications to avoid overdoing it.
Get packing. The diabetes supplies you’ll need for a day hike are the same ones you use every day. Take your meter, test strips, and lancets, and any prescribed diabetes medicines you’ll need. If you use insulin, have your pen, pump, or syringes ready along with alcohol wipes and a small container for used needles and syringes. Insulin can be kept at room temperature during a hike but needs to be protected from extreme heat or cold and direct sunlight.
Plan for changes. Your physician or diabetes educator can give you important advice about adjusting your diet and insulin use during your hike. Prolonged or demanding aerobic exercise tends to lower blood sugar—possibly sending it dangerously low. To compensate, you’re likely to need more food and/or less insulin than usual. How much those needs will change varies from person to person. Test your blood sugar often while hiking to learn how your body responds to activity. Eating a high-protein snack regularly is often a good strategy for keeping blood sugar levels more stable.
Bring some fast-acting carbohydrates just in case. If your blood glucose falls below 70 mg/dl, experts say you should immediately take steps to bring it up. You may or may not feel symptoms such as weakness, shakiness, or dizziness; rely on your glucose meter to know for sure whether you’re having a low.
To bring up low blood sugar, follow the 15-15 rule: eat or drink 15 grams of carbohydrates, rest 15 minutes, then test your blood sugar. If it is still below 70 mg/dl, repeat these steps until it returns to your normal range.
Some carbohydrates are absorbed into the bloodstream more quickly than others. Good 15-gram choices include any one of these:
• Four glucose tablets
• One tube of glucose gel
• Four ounces of fruit juice
• Half a 12-ounce can of sugar-sweetened soda pop
• One tablespoon of sugar or honey
• Two tablespoons of raisins
Be good to your feet. Wear comfortable, supportive shoes or boots appropriate for your hiking terrain. Thick, moisture-wicking socks are a good idea. If neuropathy has reduced your ability to feel foot pain or injury, take off your shoes and inspect your feet midway through your hike. Have a couple of adhesive bandages ready in case of blisters.
Know that blood sugar can go both ways. Test your blood sugar after you finish your hike. Sometimes blood glucose levels go up right after aerobic exercise. That can happen if your body doesn’t have enough insulin to keep up with the extra glucose it has released to meet the energy demands of your activity. Some insulin users who notice this problem find that it helps to administer a little extra insulin as they finish exercising.
Remember the basics that all hikers should follow:
• Bring plenty of water. The warmer it is, the more you need to hydrate.
• Don’t hike alone. If you do, let someone know where you’re going and when you’ll be back.
• Take your cell phone so you can summon help. These days, even some remote areas have coverage.
• Wear sunscreen and reapply it as directed on the container.
• Bring extra layers of warm and rain-resistant clothing if there’s a chance of foul weather.
• And don’t forget the bug spray—it might just prevent you from becoming a mosquito buffet.
Hiking is a healthy way to get more exercise. And it’s fun! Pick a pretty place and get going. Don’t forget to take lots of pictures!
Hikers, add a comment below and share your best tip for enjoying the outdoors while managing diabetes.