Why You Should Hike

A Good Exercise for People with Diabetes

Hiking is an excellent way to lose weight and improve health. Losing weight can be particularly important for people with type 2 diabetes—and just getting out there to walk is an excellent first step in controlling your weight!

In December of 2001, the US Surgeon General called the increased rate of obesity in the US an epidemic. The report states that two thirds of us are overweight or obese, and that that number is increasing.

But think of this:  when hiking a comfortable 2 mph, a person weighing 150 pounds will burn 240 calories in one hour.

Hiking can also decrease cholesterol levels, a common cause of heart disease (which is a possible long-term complication of diabetes).

More specifically, it increases HDL, which is the good type of cholesterol.

Hiking can also help control or prevent hypertension. Research indicates that regular exercise such as walking lowers systolic and diastolic blood pressure by a mean of 10 mmHg.

More specifically, walking lowers plasma norepinephrine, which correlates with blood pressure improvement.

If that's not enough to get you moving out into the hiking and walking world, there is information that this type of exercise can:

  • improve and maintain mental health
  • slow the aging process
  • prevent osteoporosis
  • improve the quality of the air we breathe by replacing short-distance motor-vehicle trips each day
  • prevent and control diabetes
  • improve arthritis
  • relieve back pain

The American Hiking Society shares facts from their beginners' guide to hiking and walking which we are sharing with you. What are the benefits of walking 20 minutes at a moderate pace of 3miles per hour? Hiking with a 10 to 15-pound pack provides all the benefits of walking, but also increases calories burned by 10% to 15%.

So, read on and you'll begin to see the benefits of hiking:

  • Burn extra calories
  • Promote fat loss and preserve lean body mass
  • Reduce the risk of heart disease
  • Increase alertness and memory
  • Increase energy levels throughout the day and enhance motor skills

Hiking allows you to experience the outdoors in a way that brings more wonder into your life:

  • You can share the environment with wildlife
  • You will learn about the flora and fauna of the area. There, I knew I'd get those two words in. Buy books that tell you about what you will see. Your hike will take on even more importance.
  • Take a historic or tourist walk, and learn what preceded your walking that morning.

It is possible to hike with a group, which is a great way to meet people.  Before you decide on a group, ask about the speed.

Walking is divided into three paces, strolling, which is 20 minutes per mile, brisk walking which is 15 minutes per mile, and aerobic walking which is 12 minutes per mile.

Hiking usually refers to extended walks in the natural world. In the past, this usually meant in the mountains or wilderness, but today, there are a growing number of trails near your home.

Before you go on that first hike, do the following:

  • Consult your physician.
  • Start out slowly and build up to 2 to 3 mile walks. Try extending your walking to weekend day hikes that include greater physical challenges.
  • After building up your confidence and experience on day hikes, try overnight backpacking.

Hiking Basics

  • Keep breathing at a natural pace with your heart rate.
  • Maintain a good posture, with your lower back flat and pelvis tucked directly under your spine. This is not the time to walk like a runway model, nor the time to emulate a body builder.
  • If you plan a hike at a pace above strolling, it is important for your body temperature to rise gradually, so warm up at least 5 or 10 minutes before increasing your speed.
  • Stretch out after your walk, when your muscles are warm and flexible.
  • Walking with modified ski poles helps you reach your target heart rate at a slower walking speed.
  • Relax. Control, rather then tense, your muscle.
  • Take quick steps, not long strides, for the most natural stride.
  • To determine your target heart rate: Walk fast enough to notice your breathing, but not so fast you are out of breath or gasping. If conversing, you should pause regularly to breathe.
  • Avoid blisters by choosing a properly sized and fitted shoe. Also try wearing synthetic socks because they reduce friction and draw moisture away from the skin.  (Foot care is, as I'm sure you know, very important for people with diabetes.  If you have diabetic neuropathy that causes foot problems or foot pain, be extra cautious when hiking.)

Hiking Gear:  Shoe Considerations for Diabetics

We do hike, my friends and I, so I had to learn about buying hiking boots. Since I had diabetes, I had shoes fitted before we went because foot ulcers, blisters, etc., are something I want to avoid.

When you go to the store look for someone who can help you select boots that do the following:

  • Boots that have plenty of room for your toes, with a snug, comfortable heel.
  • Look for a shoe with solid support and good cushioning inside the shoe.
  • Look for a firm resistant heel counter outside the shoe.

If the person who is selling you the shoe doesn't know anything about hiking boots, go to another store. When you try on boots, remember:

  • Choose boots 1/2 size bigger than your regular size.
  • Wear two pairs of socks for trying on boots and for hiking.
  • Look for boots with a thin polypropylene liner to keep your feet dry and use thick acrylic socks for warmth.

Hiking Gear:  Outwear

What you wear will depend on what the weather is.

  • In cold weather, dress your upper body in layers to keep warm and to prevent overheating; you can then take off layers as you heat up and store them in your backpack.
  • Buy one reliable jacket that is appropriate for the climate, then wear different layers based on the day's weather.
  • Always take along a waterproof jacket and hat in your backpack just in case it rains or snows.

Hiking Gear:  Backpacks with Room for Diabetic Supplies

The right waist pack, daypack or backpack is essential.

Packs vary in size and fit: buy one that is suitable for the type of hike you'll be doing.

Make sure you buy one that has room for your diabetic supplies as well as extra clothes, etc. I also make sure that my outer clothes have inside pockets for my smallest glucometer and chem strips as well as glucose tablets and carbo snacks.

(I also have one friend on the hike who knows how to treat low blood glucose events. It makes everyone have a better day to know that, just in case, the hike will be finished without having to get outside medical help.)

Before you go shopping, know that these packs come in many sizes and shapes. I tend to take what I need to pack and see how it feels ready for the trail.

For day trips you'll need a backpack. These are worn on your back and have two shoulder straps, or can be the type that is simply held by the top handle. Important features for a daypack are:

  • A padded back and padded shoulder straps for comfort.
  • Durable, weatherproof fabric
  • Thermoplastic buckles, zippers etc, so rust is never a problem
  • Storm flaps over the zippers to keep contents dry, and the right number of compartments to suit your needs
  • One-piece body construction-no major seams to tear while on your hike

Internal and external frame packs are much larger than daypacks and are generally used for more serious hiking and overnight hiking when you need to carry a large load, including tents, sleeping bag, cooking equipment, etc.

What to Bring on the Hike

If hiking for one day, always take food, water, maps or trail guides and a compass.

Make sure someone has a first aid kit, pocket knife, matches, toilet paper, a flashlight, sunglasses, sunscreen, appropriate clothing for all weather.

As we shared before, pack medical supplies you need for your diabetes and other medical conditions.

Hiking Tips:  A Successful Hike with Diabetes

Research before you goon a hike. Get recommendations from friends or call the American Hiking Society for a list of local hiking groups you can join.

Don't litter. Take a plastic bag for wrappers, empty bottles, etc. You'll find trash cans along the way to get rid of these waste bags.

Make sure you take rest and snack breaks no mater how easy you think the hike is. Take food and water along. Diabetics may take fresh fruit, nuts, etc., as snacks as well as homemade peanut butter crackers, pretzels, etc.

Make sure you know safety rules of the trial. If you choose not to use a trail and are walking along roads where there are no sidewalks, always walk facing oncoming traffic, no matter the time of day.

Our last section is just for those of us with diabetes.

Remember to stop for water so you don't get dehydrated. Talk to your health care team about any items you might overlook that they think you may need. It's their job to know, and no bad surprises on a hike are a good thing.

Make sure you're in good shape and that you know how to stretch before you begin the hike. Make sure there is one person who knows about diabetes and insulin reactions or low blood sugars if you are prone to them whether you have type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes.

Now go for it. You know you want to try it, and you know your friends or the hiking club await you.

Updated on: July 18, 2017