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My first experience with hiking was at summer camp. We started with day hikes learning about plants, trees and wild life, lead by the Nature Counselor who spoke constantly about what we were looking at. As we got older, we went on overnight hikes deeper into the forest, backpack in tow, but our food was miraculously at our campsite each night. When I was preparing for this article, I went to the Internet to see where one could hike and, would you believe, it is Paris, New York, every great national park, and places in between.

So now you can hike just about everyplace in the world. It was so exciting that I got on the phone to my spa friends and we’re already looking into a hiking vacation in Italy which will take in cities and countryside. What else could you ask for? Hiking is for old friends or new on a guided tour. It is for sharing experiences and feeling that you’ve done your exercise at the same time. You can find beginning, intermediate or advanced hikes, and can hike for a few hours or the entire day. Like us, you can have a base camp in a beautiful resort or city hotel, or you can rough it at in a campsite in the woods, jungle, dessert-or wherever you decide to hike.

Do you want information about the benefits of hiking? Look to the American Hiking Society for information. That’s where we went to get you our information. They share that hiking is an excellent way to lose excess pounds, as you improve your health. According to Walking for Health, “people won’t find a better way to lose weight than walking.” These benefits are numerous, ranging from controlling obesity to preventing heart disease.

Hiking is an excellent way to lose weight and improve health. 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. 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. More specifically, it increases HDL, evidenced by the good cholesterol levels of mail carriers who walked a few miles daily. 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 breath by replacing short-distance motor-vehicle trips each day, preventing and controlling diabetes, improving arthritis, relieving back pain and, just basically constituting habits for a healthy life.

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 three miles per hour? Hiking with a 10 to15-pound pack provides all the benefits of walking, but also increases calories burned by 10 to 15 percent.

So, read on and you’ll begin to see the benefits of hiking.

  1. Burn extra calories
  2. Promote fat loss and preserve lean body mass
  3. Reduce the risk of heart disease
  4. Increase alertness and memory
  5. Increase energy levels throughout the day and enhance motor skills

Hiking allows you to experience the outdoors in a way that brings the wonders of cities to country, forest, and wine country to mountains-the choice is yours and you take the pictures.

  1. You can share the environment with wildlife
  2. 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.
  3. Take a historic or tourist walk, and learn what preceded your waking that morning.
  4. Go to the Net or travel agent and you’ll find many theme hikes or hikes for special groups of people. What a great way to meet people just like you, or maybe try a group that sounds like people you’d like to meet.

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.

  1. You can find day hikes which are usually close to your home, and these require little equipment.
  2. Extended overnight hikes, often called backpacking hikes, require more equipment for camping, cooking, etc.

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

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

Just what are the basics of hiking?

  1. Keep breathing at a natural pace with your heart rate.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Stretch out after your walk, when your muscles are warm and flexible.
  5. Walking with modified ski poles helps you reach your target heart rate at a slower walking speed.
  6. Relax. Control, rather then tense your muscle.
  7. Take quick steps, not long strides, for the most natural stride.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.

What gear do you need?

Footwear: We do hike, my friends and I, so I had to learn about buying hiking boots. When we first started hiking mountains at spas, some friends went out and bought the cheap shoes so as not to waste money if we didn’t like the sport. This backfired and they were first in line to go to a specialty store and have shoes fitted properly. 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:

  1. Boots that have plenty of room for your toes, with a snug, comfortable heel.
  2. Look for a shoe with solid support and good cushioning inside the shoe.
  3. 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:

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

Outerwear: What you wear will depend on what the weather is. I say this with ease, but when we hiked each morning before breakfast at a spa, each hike demanded different clothes. Climbing straight up a mountain was very different than the easy valley hike.

  1. 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.
  2. Buy one reliable jacket that is appropriate for the climate, then wear different layers based on the day’s weather.
  3. Always take along a waterproof jacket and hat in your backpack just in case it rains or snows.


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. To that end, 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:

  1. A padded back and padded shoulder straps for comfort.
  2. Durable, weatherproof fabric
  3. Thermoplastic buckles, zippers etc, so rust is never a problem
  4. Storm flaps over the zippers to keep contents dry, and the right number of compartments to suit your needs
  5. 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.

Take essentials with you:

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

Research before you goes on a hike. Get recommendations from friends or call the American Hiking Society for a list of local hiking groups you can join. Never hike alone!

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.

If the scenery doesn’t turn you on, there are always tapes to listen to, but this is an option only if you are with a group for safety reasons. Pay attention to your surroundings so you can retrace your steps if you get lost.

If you are interested in seeing the local creatures in their natural habitat, you can increase your chances if you:

  1. Wear clothing that blends into the surroundings
  2. Avoid wearing perfume or using flowery soaps or lotions
  3. Remain quiet so as not to frighten them away. Be sure to point to any you see, in case others didn’t.

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.

Read this article and 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’re a type 1 or type 2. There’s always a first time. Read our article on foot care before you set off. A lot of knowledge is a good thing. Plan your hike for your peace of mind.

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