Exercise and Diet

So, to sum up the previous posts, I am:

  • 67 years old
  • Diabetic
  • Cancer survivor (Prostate)
  • Family history of colon cancer
  • I have macular degeneration
  • Sleep Apnea
  • Atrial Fibrillation

So you may be waiting for the news that I have keeled over from any combination of the above, but the funny thing is that I am not. At my six-month check-up a few weeks ago (as I write this), I was talking about my retirement plans with my doctor. I plan to retire at age 70, and then my wife and I will get an RV, and do some travelling. And my doctor said I could probably expect 20-30 good years in my retirement. Why would he say that? Well, let’s look at the data. As a diabetic I get a complete blood workup every six months before I go in for my check-up, and we had these results to look at:

  • HBA1C = 5.7, which is in the range of normal results for a healthy non-diabetic
  • HSCRP=1.58, which measure my risk of cardiac disease. This is in the average range.
  • Cholesterol=185. Under 200 is the preferred range
  • HDL (the good cholesterol)=42. They want it above 40
  • LDL (the bad cholesterol)=119. They want it under 129
  • Triglycerides=118. They want it under 150.

There were a bunch of other measurements, but suffice to say none of them was in a range indicating danger or risk.

It wasn’t always like this, of course. At one time I was someone who rarely exercised, ate a lot of junk food, and was packing on the pounds. That has a lot to do with how I got the diabetes, and probably contributed to many of the other issues I have faced. And as I said previously, the turning point came when I decided to take my diabetes seriously. My blood sugar kept staying high, my medications were increasing, and daily insulin injections were coming up when I made a decision to turn my life around. The key was diet and exercise, as it usually is. And one additional factor is that I have involved my wife in all of my health measures. She is, after all, my biggest ally and support, and I would be stupid not to involve her.

Exercise
Exercise is important for all kinds of reasons, of course. Good heart health begins with exercise. Weight control is crucial to dealing with diabetes and sleep apnea, and exercise is important to that for its effects on metabolism, but it is important not to go too far in that regard. Many people think exercise will cause weight loss, but the studies I have seen say that exercise by itself does not cause weight loss. It has to be combined with diet changes. But I have a suspicion that exercise has good psychological effects. It makes you feel good about yourself, and that can aid in maintaining discipline in eating.

You are always advised to check with your doctor first before starting an exercise program, and in my case my doctor encouraged me to get right to it. I think the most important thing is to find an exercise program you can continue to do. I got a membership at our local County Recreation facility, which has strength machines, classes, a pool, basketball courts, and walking/running paths. It is really a fabulous resource that I love. My wife, on the other hand, prefers Planet Fitness. It doesn’t matter, the key point is that you have to do it. Tons of people of bought a membership, used it a few times, then given up. One thing we have both found handy is to have a buddy you exercise with who will keep you honest. One of the exercises I do is water aerobics, and I had a buddy for it. May times I decided it was easier to just go than to explain to her why I couldn’t make it. Accountability is a wonderful thing that way.

I now have a schedule that has me going 3-4 times a week for an hour. I am signed up for two classes of Water Aerobics each week, one yoga class (to help with flexibility), and one slot that can be water aerobics, or strength machines, depending on the time of year and my mood. I say 3-4 times because I am still working, and going to the Rec Center happens after work, and sometimes other things conflict. So I may miss one on any given week, but usually I make it. And if I don’t go I have to explain it to my wife. As I said, accountability is a wonderful thing.

Another activity my wife and I do is ride bicycles. We have great parks around here that have paths that are safe for cycling, and like nothing more than getting out on a Sunday afternoon for a 15-20 mile ride when the weather permits. And we also started doing hiking. There are a lot of great parks with hiking trails around here and we love to do that as well.

We have started building in activity in other ways. A couple of weeks ago we rented an RV Trailer for a week in the northern part of the state, and had some activity every day. We would get up in the morning, have breakfast and coffee, then get out while it was still cool. On 4 of the days we went for a bike ride, averaging 15 miles (24 km) per day, and on two other days we went hiking. We installed a trailer hitch on my car that lets us put in a bike rack which makes that easy. We’ve also gone away for a weekend from time to time for a music festival, and again we get up early and get in a morning ride. After all, music festivals rarely do anything interesting before noon, so there is time.
Last year for our vacation we went out west to visit a number of our national parks, including Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, and Rocky Mountain. Each day included hiking at altitude, and generally was a few miles. My cardiologist said if I could do that I was pretty good shape.

And the year before that, we went on a boat-and-bike tour that started in Amsterdam and ended in Bruges. Each day we would get up, have breakfast, and get on the bikes. Most days we rode for about 35 miles (56 km), which we’ve decided is more than we want for any future vacation, but if we could get it down to the 20-25 mile (32km-40km) range we might do it again.

And when we retire our plan is to get away from our Michigan winters and go out in an RV to visit some of the national parks and other sights of this country, and we will take our bikes and our hiking shoes. We probably won’t go out every day like on our last vacation, but I would expect we do a ride or a hike 3-4 days a week. We have turned this into a lifestyle choice by now.

Diet

This is the other important part. My change began with reading Dr. Bernstein’s book which explained to me that if I ate foods that raised my blood sugar, my blood sugar would keep rising. Radical, eh? And on the converse side, if I cut those foods out, my blood sugar would stabilize. That made good sense to me, so I gave it a try. I cut out all starches (no more potatoes for this Irishman!), all grains, all sugars, in short, anything that would raise my blood sugar. Now, that does not mean no carbohydrates at all, since the vegetables I eat still have some carbohydrate, but at a level that causes me no problems. Lately it seems like this kind of diet has been a bit of a fad, and a backlash has come telling people they need to eat these carbohydrate-rich foods. Well, I am not doing ketogenic diet or paleo diet to be hip, I am trying to control my diabetes. I am examined by doctors very regularly, I get frequent blood tests, and I have discussed my diet with all of my doctors. I am not a doctor, but I make use of the doctors I am fortunate enough to have. In my case, I have a lot evidence that this is a good diet for me.

Of course, if you have to take out those foods, you have to substitute something else. Monday through Friday I go to work, and I start each morning by weighing out 3 ounces (85 grams) of meat (cold cuts I get from the Deli section) and 2 ounces (57 grams) of cheese. Then I get a large coffee with cream and artificial sweetener. That is my breakfast. Lunch comes from the salad bar at the company cafeteria, and is generally about 16 ounces (454 grams) of vegetables with a little cheese. Dinner is usually a salad as well, but I usually eat out and don’t know exactly how much, but let’s assume it is the same as lunch. Dessert is sugar-free gelatin.
On weekends, I go to a local restaurant for brunch, which consists of a large salad, a little fresh fruit, and meat (mostly bacon or sausage). Dinner may be another salad, or it might be meat and vegetables of some kind, or maybe vegetables with Hummus.

The point is that diet and exercise have produced the results that have lead three different doctors to say, after looking at my blood numbers “You don’t look like a diabetic.” And that is exactly the way I want it.

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