A weekend hike is not just a fun, affordable activity for the whole family, it’s also one of the best ways to enjoy South Africa’s natural beauty. And a great way to get fit! But when you have diabetes, there are a few other things to think about. For starters, what’s in your pack? Nicole McCreedy leads the way for diabetic hiking.
Why hiking is good for you
Hiking is good for the heart and the soul. Being in nature can help you to de-stress and reduce anxiety levels after a busy week, and when you hike you get all the same benefits of walking – and a few more. Hiking is a powerful cardiovascular workout that is known to reduce cholesterol, which means less risk of heart disease, and it can improve blood pressure. Keeping your heart fit and healthy is important for all diabetics.
So what’s in a hike? The following ingredients:
- 1 x beautiful trail
- 1 x pair of shoes
- 1 x backpack to carry all the essentials
- 1 x spirit of adventure
What to bring on your hike:
Luckily, you don’t need much equipment to hike. It’s important to research the route beforehand, though, especially if you’re going seriously off-road. Make sure you always hike with other people and pack these essentials:
- A cellphone in case you need to make an emergency call
- A GPS or map so that you don’t get lost.
- Enough water. It’s easy to become dehydrated, especially in warm weather.
- A low blood sugar snack (like dried fruit or juice).
- A mid-hike snack (like fresh fruit, crackers and nuts) to help you maintain your blood sugar levels.
- Your glucometer (testing meter), strips and insulin, if necessary.
- A hat and sunblock to shield you from the sun.
- Rain gear if it looks like rain!
How to prepare for diabetic hiking
We asked expert biokineticist, Sarah Hall, for some tips.
The nature of hiking means that your terrain is unstable and unpredictable. Each step is different from the one before and requires a combination of balance, strength and stability, using one leg at a time. Here’s how to prepare for a hike:
- Start by doing exercises with one leg at a time to isolate muscle groups and encourage improved balance and joint stability. This is called unilateral training.
- Strengthen your glutes and calves to help with climbing and hiking for a longer period of time. Choose exercises like step-ups, standing side leg raises, static lunges and single leg balancing. Try to do 3 sets of 20 of each.
- Alignment is key. Your spine will be taking the load with each step, so be sure to keep your hip, knee and ankle in one straight line for all exercises.
- Always include core exercises that strengthen your abdominals and try to keep your posture upright during the hike.
- To prevent injury during the hike, ensure that you take regular breaks and stretch.
Taking care of your feet
Here are 5 tips to take care of your feet while out and about hiking:
- Condition your feet
It is important to train the muscles, tendons, and ligaments of your ankles and feet for hiking with a backpack.
- Get good footwear and socks Shoes that fit correctly are the most important way to keep your feet happy. When choosing socks, avoid moisture-retaining cotton: instead choose wool or synthetic socks.
- Manage your toenails and skin
Socks will catch on nails that are too long or that have rough edges, putting pressure on the nail bed. Take special care of the skin on your heels.
- Learn how to prevent blisters
Experiment with different blister patching products and different taping techniques. Find what works for your feet and then perfect the method.
- Carry a small footcare kit
A small footcare kit carried in a ziplock bag is easy to carry with your backpack. Include either Vaseline or talcum powder, a few alcohol wipes to clean the skin, some blister plasters and a safety pin to drain blisters (if necessary!)
Are you a fan of diabetic hiking? Where have you been and where do you plan on going? Tell us below or on Diabetic South Africans on Facebook.