Beating diabetes

Lifestyle changes help some live with, others avoid, diabetes

Lifestyle changes help some live with, others avoid, diabetes

December 26, 2005|by KRISTIN WILSON

David Smith flips through a stack of books sitting on his kitchen table.

With titles like "Type 2 Diabetes," "Beating Diabetes," and "Conquering Diabetes," it's clear Smith is going to battle against his diabetes diagnosis.

Since May, Smith, 72, who lives east of Hagers-town, has been retooling his lifestyle to incorporate better eating habits and more exercise - all in an effort to control his diabetic condition. The result so far has been a weight loss of 28 pounds.

But perhaps more importantly, Smith's blood test results have consistently improved, showing that he is getting his blood sugar levels under control.


The weight loss has been easier than Smith expected, although he admits there are challenges.

Still, he says, he has no choice but to be committed to pursuing a more healthy lifestyle, watching what he eats and exercising on an almost daily basis.

"It's not a diet that you get on and quit someday," he says.

Smith has been drawing inspiration from the stories of others who have lost dozens of pounds after a diabetes diagnosis and kept the weight off for many years. He also is encouraged by studying the mechanics of how diabetes affects the body and can wreak havoc on body systems including the kidneys, heart, blood vessels and nerves.

"I've learned since I started to read my blood glucose levels, if I eat a heavy meal and then spend some time on the treadmill, I can drop my blood glucose right down," Smith says.

That's because exercise is a vital tool for diabetic patients and can help regulate blood sugar levels.

"You are using energy up when you are exercising," explains Lisa McCoy, a registered dietitian with the Washington County Health Department. "You're using calories up and you are using up the extra glucose that may be there."

Diabetes is a metabolism disorder. The most common form of the disease is Type 2 diabetes, which usually develops gradually throughout the course of someone's life. Once a person becomes diabetic, food broken down into energy ceases to be passed efficiently to the body's cells. That means extra energy in the form of glucose builds up in the blood stream, causing cells to be starved for energy, according to information from the American Diabetes Association.

Over time, unchecked blood sugar levels can damage the kidneys, cause blindness and lead to limb amputations.

That's why Smith is getting serious about his health now. He's taking a diabetes drug called metformin that helps to regulate blood sugar levels. He's hoping that by losing more weight and maintaining near-normal blood sugar levels, he will be able to control his diabetes without medication.

"I've got a long way to go yet before I get where I want to be," he says.

Smith's research has revealed studies that show if rising blood sugar levels are caught early enough, the trend toward diabetes can be reversed with healthy lifestyle changes.

While his diagnosis cannot be reversed, he is part of a Washington County Health Department class that is trying to prevent diabetes for people diagnosed with prediabetes.

The S.T.O.P. program (Strategies To Overcome Prediabetes) is spreading the word that with a reduction in body weight and increased exercise, people can stop a progression toward full-blown diabetes.

Peggy Hurd, 58, of Hagerstown, took the S.T.O.P course in January and since then has lost 71 pounds.

Hurd was not diagnosed with prediabetes, but she was faced with an extensive family history that pointed in that direction.

"Diabetes has affected at least four generations of my family - either Type 1 or Type 2 - so it was a definite reality for me," Hurd says. "Both of my parents had Type 2. My aunts have it. I knew it was coming and I wanted to do something."

So Hurd changed her diet, joined a Curves gym and started attending a church-sponsored weight-loss support group.

Her life at the end of 2005 is markedly different than it was a year ago. She has more energy and feels more in control of balancing food choices with exercise.

She also has seen her blood sugar levels stay within the normal range.

As a retired registered nurse, Hurd considers herself a caregiver to her family. However, she says, "If I let this thing take over my life, I was going to be the one needing care, not giving it."

As Smith and Hurd approach their weight-loss goals, they are faced with another set of challenges: keeping the weight off and maintaining their new healthy lifestyle.

"I think the real challenge is ahead," Hurd says.

About diabetes

Seven percent of Americans have diabetes. That's about 20.8 million people, according to the American Diabetes Association

Medical findings reported by the American Diabetes Association say when prediabetes patients spent 30 minutes a day doing moderate physical activity and reduced their body weight by five to 10 percent, the chance of developing diabetes was reduced by 58 percent.

For more information

For more information about the Washington County Health Department S.T.O.P. program, call Lisa McCoy at 240-313-3300.

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