Exercise, as we folks with diabetes are often told, is essential for good management of diabetes. ‘Good’ doesn’t mean easy. The usual disclaimer applies; my experiences are unique to me, but this week’s blog post is inspired by last week’s climb of Ben Lomond.
Ben Lomond is a munro—i.e. a mountain this is higher than 3,000 feet or 914.4 metres. Munro-bagging is the activity where you climb them, stand on the top for a while taking pictures (if it’s not on social media, it never happened, right?) and then telling everyone you know for weeks afterwards.
As Ben Lomond is the munro nearest to where I live, it’s been on my bucket list for ages. My sister in law is a keen walker/hill climber so the two of us set off to tackle the mountain last Monday.
I am fitter than average. My FitBit tells me I’m in the top percentage of people my age and gender when it comes to the VO2 measurement. (If you can explain exactly what this is to me, I’d be grateful.) But climbing a munro? Boy, a different kettle of fish entirely. I didn’t prepare properly and I suffered.
So, here are the lessons I learned…
Prepare, prepare, prepare
Endurance exercise needs far more before-hand and after preparation than short spurts of exercise. I can do half an hour to an hour’s exercise without needing to take extra carbs or adjust my insulin. A mountain is something else entirely.
Stretch, stretch, stretch
Stretch out your calves, quads and glutes thoroughly afterwards. No, do. Mine ached for five days afterwards, particularly my calves which I put down to going up on the balls of my feet as I clambered over the rocks. When I got out of bed on Sunday morning and limped downstairs to the toilet, I went so slowly my FitBit didn’t register the steps.
Eat, you diddy
Eat beforehand. I know, duh. I had food with me but my sister-in-law and I did it first thing so I hadn’t bothered with breakfast.
Test, test, test
Blood sugar at the start – 9.8. One hour in, 13.4. I took half a unit of rapid acting insulin—3.2 half an hour later. In a panic, I shoved in too many jelly babies. At the top I ate a banana and took no insulin. By the time I got to the bottom, my blood sugar had hit the heady heights (appropriate analogy, huh?) of 19. I took too much insulin and by the time I got home, I’d crashed once more.
Oh for the Abbot Free Style Libre, which would have made testing blood sugar levels so much easier and adjustments more likely to be accurate. Some day my star will come and the good people of Greater Glasgow and Clyde NHS health board will see fit to prescribe it.
Enjoy the views
Except, this being Scotland, count on getting to the top and seeing nothing thanks to the thick layer of grey cloud that hovers there. Still, twenty metres down and the views were glorious.
Afterwards, we realised we’d climbed Ben Lomond on World Naked Hiking Day… sadly, everyone else who climbed it on that day hadn’t got the memo either.
All of which brings me neatly to—can you do endurance exercise when you have type 1 diabetes to deal with? People do. There’s the Novo Nordisk team of cyclists for a start. On the other hand, they’ve got a team of dedicated professionals behind them to help with diet and working out what they take insulin-wise. I’m willing to bet too, that they have access to all the latest gear—the continuous glucose monitoring, the pumps and sophisticated feedback they can interpret to work out how to cope with long bike rides.
Our ascent of Ben Lomond took just over two hours and ten minutes (844 calories on the FitBit), and the descent about an hour and forty minutes. It counts as the hardest fitness challenge I’ve ever undertaken, far more difficult than running a half-marathon.
[Talking of running, we were overtaken by two trail runners at one point. Lordy. In awe.]
I don’t know if I would do it again. I’d rather do short bursts of exercise interspersed throughout the day as I know what I’m doing and how it will affect me. I’m a mesomorph body type too. My body favours that kind of exercise as opposed to the endurance stuff. I can walk long distances and often do, but most of the time that’s on flat ground or its hills do not last more than 45 minutes. Hauling yourself up mountains is hard as heck.
With exercise it is easy to forget that there is a level above which there is no point in doing extra unless you are training for a big event or you’re a professional sports man or woman or athlete. I do Pilates for the flexibility benefits, I walk or run for cardio and otherwise I try to move a little throughout the day. That, I think, is enough for me.
What do you prefer—endurance exercise or doing short, intense bursts of it?
*Photos courtesy of Jacqui Birnie.