On the Up – by Helen May


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I enjoy stretching my body and mind beyond its comfort zone: I enjoy a bit of mental and physical stimulation. That is probably why I enjoy climbing. However, I am a coward: I only like to climb in an environment where I feel reasonably safe. I trust my equipment and I trust my climbing partners. I also don’t like the cold and I live in the UK. So, unfortunately, most of my climbing is done in an indoor climbing centre.

I have been climbing off and on for over ten years. When I was diagnosed with diabetes, I was climbing but not regularly. As I was learning the effects diabetes had on my body, I was nervous about pushing it. So I was nervous about undertaking exercise. But I didn’t want to stop. For a few months, I held back, partly due to feeling run down and tired until I stabilized my blood sugars.

Then I slowly went back to climbing. Whenever I take a break from climbing, it has taken some time to get back to my previous ability: a combination of strength, remembering technique and overcoming fear (despite trusting the equipment and climbing partners). So going back after my diabetes diagnosis was no different. Except, this time, I had to learn what the stress was doing to my blood sugars.

I usually climb for two to three hours a night including a break for a cup of tea half way through. At the start of the evening, whilst warming up, I feel pretty good. Gradually, through the evening, I climb harder and more exposed routes. My mind and body start complaining and I feel tired as the evening progresses.

Nothing surprising there – I am exercising my mind and muscles. But there is more to it: my blood glucose levels are changing: through a typical evening of climbing, my blood sugars rise from, around, 5mmol/l up to 12mmol/l. I avoid climbing too soon after eating and I look longingly at the cake my climbing buddies have with their tea. But I resist. And my blood sugars still rise.

I could take more measurements and take insulin to reduce the blood sugars. Maybe one day I’ll take my meter to the wall and take regular readings throughout the evening. Or perhaps I’ll borrow a CGM so I can analyse the readings later. But I want to enjoy my climbing and I don’t want it to be affected by my diabetes.

Last week, one of my climbing buddies was suggesting something similar with his heart rate monitor. We could compare blood glucose readings and heart rate to recognize the affect on our bodies when we climbed a difficult route.

Until I have my readings and analysis, I’ll continue to climb and enjoy the evening with little thought to diabetes. I know I’ll feel tired at the end due to more than just diabetes. But I’ll also feel exhilarated having made it to the top of a difficult climb and I’ll have spent a fun evening catching up with friends.

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