Hiking Again, Hiking For Health And Life

Jeff and I have not done much hiking the past year to year-and-a-half (or hike blogging). Part of this is due to the hot summer-like temperatures we have had all year round (our beagle and I are both very miserable in heat), and our inability to get up early enough to hike in the cooler morning hours. But mainly it’s because I was always struggling on even the easiest hikes. I would really huff and puff and tucker out. My energy was way down. I always felt exhausted. I wasn’t sleeping well (chronic insomnia), so I woke up exhausted. I’d get really cranky on the trail because I could feel my blood sugar dropping and needed to snack a lot. On our vacation to New Orleans in September, my feet kept swelling (humidity, right?).

We attributed this to many things. The insomnia and exhaustion were due to stress and being overworked (even though my high stress couple of years on a big website redesign project at work wrapped up in January 2013). Overextending myself on volunteer activities. Not regularly walking every morning anymore, so not in good cardio shape (again, due to the exhaustion and lack of sleep). Getting older. I was thin and appeared to be in good healthy condition. It couldn’t be anything serious.

Monday Night Football, New Orleans, September 2013.

September 2013, at my Weight Watchers goal weight (2 sizes ago). Attending the Saints Monday Night Football game during our New Orleans vacation.

What I didn’t tell my husband were the other symptoms that started regularly kicking in around October, November, and December. My feet and ankles were swelling a lot, almost every day at work. My arms and wrists tingled (I work, live, and breathe on computers…carpal tunnel, right?). My up-close vision got blurry. I experienced gut-wrenching (literally) burning stomach pains on a regular basis, which only went away after eating something. After eating our way through Louisiana and Mississippi for 10 days, my husband gained 10 pounds while I lost weight. Around the holidays, I noticed that I could eat whatever I wanted, in whatever quantity I wanted, and I kept losing weight (this was hard to notice at first, because I’d been back on Weight Watchers for a good year, and had very gradual weight loss). I felt like I was in a constant mental fog, and like I was always moving in slow motion. The past year, my normally bouncy full head of hair changed and thinned out (my hairdresser of 10+ years kept telling me to have my doctor check my thyroid). Everyone thought I had a hyperactive thyroid.

Finally, I went to the doctor. I needed routine checkups anyways (yeah, I hadn’t been to the doc in <ahem> a while). And I was finally scared enough about my symptoms.

On April 10th, I received a diagnosis from my doctor that has changed my life.

I have a very extreme case of Type 2 Diabetes, along with extremely high cholesterol. I would never in a million years think this would be my diagnosis. My doctor was very upset when she went over my lab work with me. My A1C (the main diabetes indicator) was 15! To put that in context, diabetics should be at A1C 7 or lower, and a 13 is considered dangerously high. My doctor said that in 30 years of practicing medicine, she has never had a patient at that level. She couldn’t believe I hadn’t lapsed into a diabetic coma. My cholesterol was sky high (over 400). My resting heart rate was the highest she’d ever encountered. She said I was near cardiac arrest. She said I was at fatally high A1C and cholesterol levels. She said I am the healthiest looking unhealthy person she has ever treated. She said I would die if we did not start lowering these levels fast, and if I did not take my condition seriously.

My doctor prescribed an immediate severely restricted diet along with some medications (not insulin, thank God; she is saving that as a last resort). Doc is big on a holistic approach to health and believes I can drastically improve my health through diet and exercise. No sugar at all. No carbs other than what comes naturally in vegetables and fruit, and a few other very low carb items. Except for oatmeal and bran flakes, which are good for my cholesterol and blood sugar. No pasta, no rice, no potatoes, no bread. No booze! Only 1-1/2 fruits a day (too much fructose will affect my blood sugar). Only almond milk or soy milk (glucose affects blood sugar). Only lean meats and fish. Ditch the fat-free foods touted by Weight Watchers and other diet programs (loaded in sugar). So essentially, lean meats, non-starchy vegetables, and a little bit of fruit.

This diet sucks. It makes me really cranky and sometimes quite down. But, I will be able to add the restricted foods again in moderation once I’m at healthy levels. And I keep reminding myself… it could be much worse… I could have cancer, like some of my friends. I can do this. Being a 15 year Lifetime member of Weight Watchers, I am used to tracking food and restricting bad foods.

If you’re into a low carb, low cholesterol diet, follow our food blog, The Taste Place.

Buckhorn Lodge - January 2014

At a swanky event at the Buckhorn Lodge in Mount Baldy, January 2014. Two sizes ago. I’ll be happy if I can return to this healthier weight and size.

Oh yeah. She wants me to gain weight! On this severely restricted diet! Unlike the stereotypical diabetic, I am thin. At the lowest end of my recommended weight range and BMI…just 106 pounds, and a size 4 (my high school weight). So far, I’ve only been able to put on a pound or two, but take it right back off with exercise.

Now about exercise.

The first few weeks after diagnosis, adjusting to the new medications, I still had no energy. But I had to exercise if I was going to lower my numbers and get healthy. We started walking at our neighborhood park again (Holly Beagle was happy!). At first, I could only do one very slow lap around the park (the seniors with walkers could lap me!). We built up our miles and speed, and now walk every morning before work. My energy suddenly drastically improved. I had more energy than I’d had in one or two years! I felt like a new person. I wanted to hike again…

Six weeks ago, we went on our first hike since Mount Rubidoux in August 2013. Probably only our third or fourth hike in the past year. And I felt great! It was soooo nice to be back out on the trails! I had way more energy than I remember having on hikes in a long long time. Jeff kept commenting that I wasn’t huffing and puffing and struggling like I had on even easy hikes the past couple years. I still don’t handle heat well, but that’s how I’m wired, and that won’t ever change.

Hacienda Hills Loop Hike

Our first hike in a long time. Hacienda Hills. May 17, 2014. Blog post coming soon!

We hiked four Saturdays in a row! Like old times. We took last Saturday off to get overdue chores done, but we hiked again today. We’re just doing short distances and easy elevation gain for now while I build up my strength and endurance. But, we’re out there again. Hiking for health, more than ever before. And I have all the confidence that we’ll be able to tackle much tougher hikes by the end of the year. Especially if we hit the trails earlier in the morning. Perhaps then we’ll organize another #SoCalHikingTweetup! Once we can somewhat keep up with everyone. :-)

Which, brings me to one odd side effect of my medications and new health regime. Since going on the meds, I have not been able to sleep past 6 or 6:30am on days off (today, I was awake by 5:00am!). I hate that. I love my sleep! But, it makes for very productive mornings. Now if I could just get Jeff up before 8:30 or 9:00am…

I am nowhere near healthy numbers yet. But my most recent lab results, for my 60 day checkup, showed my A1C dropped to 12.6 (Doc says a “quantum leap” in this timeframe) and cholesterol panel “infinitely better”. It is going to be a long road back to healthy, however our daily walks and our weekend hikes will play a big role in that goal and then in my continued maintenance. My awesome support system of a husband plays a key role in that progress and goal, too.

I refuse to be a diabetic that ends up immobile, with amputations, or on dialysis.

And you know what? Our spectacular trails, parks, and other open spaces look so much better when one has been faced with a near fatal diagnosis, and the chance to live.

Comments

  1. says

    Good to see that you saw what you needed to do to master your condition and get better. I live with Type 2 Diabetes, too. Hiking five times a week helped me curb my excessive blood sugars and triglycerides. It can get insanely out of control if you don’t mind your diet and exercise for sure. At first, I despaired. Then I gradually got the strength to hike and take on more challenging hikes. I’ve lost 70 pounds in the last three years (there was a blip when my wife was diagnosed with uterine cancer but everything has turned around and I am back on the program). Helps my heart, too.

    • Jeff Greene says

      Glad you are doing well! I am medically perfect (other than the extra 20-30 pounds I’m carrying around), but this wake-up call has been a big deal for both of us, causing us to change much of our diet and make a much bigger effort to wake up each morning to exercise and get out on the weekends for more aggressive hiking opportunities!

  2. Bonnie J. Winberg says

    Chino Hills is back to its gorgeous self Colleen. I found your blog on google while looking for more info on trail mileage here. I hope you will return to this area while the weather is cooler and the hills are so green! I am 44 years old all year (2015). I wanted to mention, I love hiking and had my own round of stress related health problems that peaked about 15 months ago. I had come home from a zumba class feeling extremely fatigued. I had gone “all out” as the group was taking a winter recess and I was still around 40 pounds overweight and I wanted to give it my all. Well, I must have thrown myself over the edge. I had been struggling with insomnia, an (unbeknownst to me at that time) heart rhythm issues brought on by stress combined with an allergic reaction to store brand antihistamine that caused heart palpitations. I took it not for allergies but to help me become sleepy on occasion. When I finally went to sleep that night I found it extremely difficult to get in enough air while laying on my side. I started to feel that “closed in feeling” like I needed to open a window and get up and take in all the air I needed as I felt like I was suffocating. Then my feelings of panic set in as I couldn’t get a grip on enough air. So imagine now, that adrenaline from the lack of sleep, too much coffee, increasing heart palpitations from the antihistamine and over done exercise, and an unawareness of heart rhythm issues and now first time panic attack? My body went over the edge, I couldn’t stop the panic attack I was having (and I wasn’t even sure that was what it was- being the first one I had ever had) and I assumed it was heart related as my heart was out of control. I went to the ER 3 times in 3 1/2 weeks and each time was given anti-anxiety medication until the last time when I asked for a prescription until I could get a doc apt and be seen. However I really didn’t want to be on medication and I was only given a low dose of 20 pills to see me thru to the new year. I thought, “What is wrong with me. Am I going crazy? Why is my body doing this?” I jumped online researching my symptoms as I wanted to take a natural approach to my issues as well.

    I learned a lot and for lack of space I’ll skip to the happy ending: I take magnesium citrate (actually in a combo to get some calcium too) around 375-500 mg daily magnesium in natural supplements depending on need/stress and how much I am getting in my diet. This cured my problem with insomnia and stress related twitches I had gotten (the ones you get on your eye lid or on your arm or lower leg.) I also felt more naturally calm and relaxed as it helps muscles and nerves to bring down the adrenaline that stress induces in the body. I found I felt I could concentrate easier and wasn’t as scatter brained. I had to cut back on caffeine (no coffee or other caffeine drinks) as it will prevent magnesium absorption and you waste money on the supplements. In a blood test I showed low on vitamin D so I was told to take 4,000 IU daily of D3. I read that taking K2 with D3 helps absorption, so I found a 1,000 to 100 version (to take 4 times through out the day) that seems to work well for me and has helped me with energy levels and a cure for the emotional swings and depression one can get due to emotional stress and aging. Then there was the heart palpitations and fatigue. I saw a cardiologist who said my levels of good cholesterol (from blood test with regular doc) were low. The regular doc said to take fish oil for that and add more fish to the diet. The heart doc wanted to write prescriptions for all kinds of stuff that I wasn’t interested in. Since I love Salmon I eat that from time to time but take fish oil daily and that helps keep my arteries clear…less huff and puff up hills. Side note: Fish oil not only raises good cholesterol -HDLs, but it lowers blood pressure and reduces inflamation in joints. :-) Magnesium also lowers blood pressure so I try to alternate taking them during the day as my blood pressure is normal and occasionally low level. Found out my heart rhythm issues were most likely due to stress and emotional issues due to the circumstances of my life and so with family recommendations and research I began taking CoQ10 Ubiquinol and although more expensive, you only take 1 supplement a day. This odd name is actually something your body produces naturally but as you age research has shown you don’t make what your body used to. Once my heart rhythm issues were hugely improved by this supplement I found getting up and doing stuff again was WAY easier for me. Since I dropped the antihistamine, it took a few weeks but the heart palpitations went away too. Now I only notice problems if I go off CoQ10 for a while. So, the energy difference for me was nearly drastic.

    Bottom line for my overly verbose rantings? I promised God if he helped me discover the answer to my anxiety attacks and health issues I would tell everyone I find who might have similar symptoms so they could get the answers they needed to. I am a follower of Jesus and know that God truly loves us and longs to help us when we suffer so that we can live life more abundantly . We live in a fallen world and each of us is going to age and eventually die physically, but there is a mercy in how we age. Getting the right food into your body and adding supplements that come from natural sources with easily digested (soft gel) style is worth looking into and so much better. I would rather pay the money for vitamins and food and as a result feel and look healthy. The alternative would be taking artificial meds with lots of side effects and never really solve the root problem and potentially ruin my chances at a healthy abundant life. I hope this helps anyone browsing the internet to do their own research on the subject. Together we can help each other stay as healthy as possible and encourage each other to continue doing the things we love (like hiking and exploring this amazingly beautiful country that we have been blessed with) with renewed enthusiasm for as long as possible.

    Thanks for sharing your story and the hiking blogs too and if you read the whole post here…well, May God bless you!

  3. says

    I just saw your post Colleen and hope all is well with you and Jeff. I realize it’s been some time since your last comment. I love the informative style of writing in your hiking blog and look forward to seeing future posts, but as a hiking blogger myself, I also realize the labor of love time commitment it takes to keep a blog rolling. The most important thing is your health so please take as much time of as you need to get well before jumping back in the saddle again. Best regards.

Trackbacks

Leave a Comment, Question, or Suggestions!