I’ve always enjoyed hiking, but I especially came to love it during the pandemic because it gave me an excuse to leave my house, breathe fresh air, and enjoy the scenery. If you haven’t hiked before, it’s never too late to begin. Hiking can increase stamina, improve bone density, strengthen leg muscles, strengthen your core, and improve your balance. It can also help you control your weight, improve blood pressure, lower blood glucose levels, and generally reduce the risk of heart disease.
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A wide variety of fancy gear is marketed to hikers, but all you really need to start out is a lightweight backpack and sturdy, durable hiking boots that fit well. (I remember hiking in old boots that seemed to be made of lead, but there are many lightweight yet durable options available today.) Hiking poles are also recommended, especially on hills, because they help you keep your balance, particularly going downhill, and take some of the stress off knees and hips.
What do you put in your backpack? Water is the most important item, since hiking inevitably builds a thirst, and there are usually no water fountains or convenience stores in the wild. It’s also prudent to carry blood glucose monitoring supplies and snacks and/ or glucose tablets in case of hypoglycemia (low blood glucose). If there’s any chance of being out after dark, definitely pack a flashlight.
All geared up with nowhere to go? Members of the Appalachian Mountain Club have access to organized hiking trips and related events. The Hiking Project offers maps for hiking trails all over the world and allows you to search for trails near you. Meetup.com has regional hiking groups that provide group hikes, most of which are free to members. Most if not all states have hiker-friendly state parks and forests, often with large trail maps on display and smaller trail maps that you can carry. The U.S. Forest Service has a searchable database of forests and grasslands in various states.
For people who prefer flat surfaces, consider abandoned railroad tracks that have been converted to hiking and biking trails, offering natural scenery you can’t usually see from the road. Over 22,000 miles of trails in the U.S. alone have been converted by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, which can give you information about converted rails in your state. I also enjoy walking on nearby beaches, some of which go on for miles — and if I want a more intense workout, I hike up and down the dunes.
Safety is particularly important when you’re starting out. It’s a very good idea to hike with a friend, so you can help each other if one of you gets hurt. You should also stay on marked paths and trails. Check the weather forecast so you can dress accordingly, especially if there is likely to be cold weather or rain. Above all, have fun!
Want to learn more about diabetes and hiking? Read “Hiking for Health” and “Take a Hike!”
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