Secret # 26: Live an Active Life

Secret #26 is excerpted from Part Five: Exercise Secrets found in my new book about what has worked well for long-time diabetes survivors: 50 Secrets of the Longest Living People with Diabetes by Sheri Colberg, PhD, and Steven V. Edelman, MD (November 2007). Check my Web site ( for more details or to order this book online.

When it comes right down to it, how long you’re physically active each day is likely more important than what you do. According to recent studies, participating in close to three hours (170 minutes) of exercise per week at any intensity (i.e., easy, moderate, or hard) improves insulin sensitivity more than if you accumulate only two hours (115 minutes) weekly. The length of your physical activities, therefore, appears to be more important for your blood glucose control than how hard you’re working during them.

Thus, to be truly effective, a formal exercise program consisting of thirty minutes a day needs to be combined with more daily spontaneous physical activity, which usually is composed of the activities of daily living like walking. Most of the diabetic individuals who don’t engage in any exercise programs per se state that they’re very active people in general. Even though a few of the old-timers with diabetes are not especially physically active at present (for health or other reasons), they all feel that being physically active is important to longevity with diabetes and good health, and most have led active lives. By way of example, Mary Sue Rubin does a variety of physical activity. At work, she walks a mile almost every day. She also walks her dogs on weekends, does some gardening, shovels snow (she lives in Maryland), and stretches frequently. “Physical activity is one of my top secrets behind my almost half century with diabetes.”

Bob Elder has also been physically active most of his life since before he was an officer in the Marines and diagnosed with diabetes at the age of twenty-three. Long retired and fast approaching seventy years of age and forty-seven years with diabetes, he states, “I just want to stay active and reasonably healthy and not be dependent on anyone else.” With that goal in mind, he plays golf regularly, plays tennis at least once a week, and stays active overall. His cardiologist now has him also doing more aerobic workouts to help lower his blood pressure. Jim Arthur, a regular exerciser until his neuropathy pain has kept him from walking as much in the past four years, says that he has always had active hobbies like golf and basketball. “Now I do water walking and swimming,” he says. “It’s an easy and good way to exercise. In fact, water walking is especially great when you have neuropathy and loss of balance.” Peter Gariti has also always been pretty active. “I like to keep moving,” he says. His current activities mainly consist of yard work when the weather permits and mall walking with his wife, although he used to belong to a gym.

Likewise, Carolyn Balcom used to do more regular exercise, but had been slacking off for various reasons. To make herself more aware of how active she is (or isn’t), she has started wearing a pedometer as a reminder to take more steps during the day. For Jane Dohrmann, a pedometer has also become an essential tool for her diabetes management. She says, “Exercise is my biggest hurdle. I hate to exercise, and I know it’s the one thing I should be doing more of, especially since I am also a heart patient. I have begun to wear my pedometer and do my best to take extra steps to do normal tasks around the house, and we park farther away from stores, et cetera. I need to find a way to do this and keep it up.” They both know what they’re talking about because studies have shown that women wearing pedometers who have a goal of 10,000 steps per day walk more than others whose only goal was a brisk, thirty-minute walk.

Moreover, being active can have a positive effect on your mood, stress levels, and self-image, all of which can positively impact your diabetes control when they are improved. Bill King says that being active and seeing yourself as an “athlete” is more about your spirit than your athletic capability. “I’m an athlete,” he says, “because when I look in a mirror, I see myself as one. If you have an active lifestyle, you will immediately gain self-esteem.” He also runs marathons and trains four to five days a week, so he probably does qualify as a true athlete, but for the rest of you with less ambitious athletic endeavors, you can still benefit from seeing yourself that way. Use your vision of yourself as an athlete to stay motivated to be active every day of your long and healthy life.


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