A Week of Workouts (Kind Of)

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View from the top of Norumbega Mountain

In terms of health, vacation means different things to different people. Some people see vacation as a time to indulge their food cravings and not worry about exercise. Others use the break in routine as a stimulus to change unhealthy habits.

When I went with my family on our annual vacation in Maine last week, my goal was to get exercise (which I figured would somewhat counterbalance any unhealthy eating I did end up doing). I didn’t think this would be a challenge. Where we stay, on Mount Desert Island, there’s not much to do inside–the cabin is small, the selection of books is limited, cell phone reception is sketchy, and internet access is nonexistent. On the other hand, there’s a whole range of options outside. The cabin we rent is on a lake, so the decision to go swimming or canoeing takes all of five seconds. Mount Desert Island is home to Acadia National Park, which encompasses several mountains and dozens of well-preserved, well-marked trails.

I did get some exercise on my recent trips to Estonia and Latvia. But this exercise was inadvertent–I simply ended up walking much more than I usually do. Exercising without trying can be gratifying, but for diabetics it can also be challenging. Since I never knew beforehand how active I would be in a given day, it was hard to plan how much insulin to take. Sometimes I would have one low after another; at other times my blood sugar would soar.

When I went to Maine, I knew that I would be staying in one place rather than traveling. My schedule would be more under my control, and I could do more than just exercise–I could exercise regularly. I wanted to create a routine that would have a predicable impact on my blood sugar.

At the beginning of our vacation I had a vision of going on a hike every day. I even had a time of day I wanted to hike: morning. By the end of last year’s vacation in Maine, I had realized that morning is the ideal time for a hike in terms of regulating my blood sugar. (Of course, it’s also nice to hike at this time of day because the temperature outside is relatively cool.) When I ate breakfast, I would take less insulin than I needed, and start the hike slightly high. By the time I stopped for lunch, my blood sugar would have fallen to an ideal number. I would eat a sandwich, fruit, and M&Ms without taking any more insulin; the carbs I consumed would keep my blood sugar from dropping too low during the last stretch.

At first it seemed that I would actually be able to stick to the routine I had planned. My parents and I took our traditional first hike up Beech Mountain the afternoon I arrived on the island. The next morning, my mom and I did another short hike–in preparation, we thought, for longer hikes to come. We didn’t realize that these hikes were still a while off.

On the third day, my mom and I decided to rent a canoe for our family to use for the rest of the week. The canoe rental station was at the opposite end of the lake from our cabin, and the journey back to our house took the two of us (neither of whom had canoed since last summer) more than an hour. After we’d finished, all we wanted to do was flop down on the couch. We promised ourselves that we’d go on a good hike the next day. Then weather intervened. When I’m at home in the suburbs, it’s hard to remember how much a day in Maine can be spoiled by a rainy day. But it can be. And we had three rainy days in a row.

Still, we adjusted. The uncertain weather made it impossible to plan long hikes, but we took walks and canoe rides when the rain let up for an hour or so. Only one day was stormy enough to keep us inside the entire time. We took the opportunity to enjoy being tourists in Bar Harbor, dashing from store to store under umbrellas. The weather turned sunny again for our final day, although it was also humid and hot. We rallied ourselves and scaled the appropriately dubbed “Goat Trail” up Norumbega Mountain.

So I did get exercise throughout my vacation, although the aim of establishing a predicable routine eluded me. My blood sugar was periodically low, just as it had been in Estonia. My vacation was also more hectic than I’d thought, and I found it hard to gauge what the problem with my insulin was. Should I take less Lantus? Less Humalog? How much less? By the time I managed to readjust my doses correctly, it was almost time to go home. Luckily, though, none of my lows were serious. In a way, I was even glad of the sign that my activity was having a noticeable effect on my blood sugar.

Besides, vacation isn’t really a time for routine. Enough of that during the rest of the year!

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