Learning to move well through diabetes

Growing up in India, I was acutely aware of the disease of ‘sugar‘, one that had afflicted various female members of my maternal family. Since my mother and grandmother both had it, and died from it, I was told repeatedly that I was at risk and should be aware of what I eat and watch my weight. I was also reminded that by age 30, if I didn’t watch myself, I was likely going to be diagnosed with the disease.

My first ten years in the United States introduced me to the western diet. I grew accustomed to the diet but didn’t learn the workout ethic so prevalent in my communities… lunch often included fried tacos, burgers and fries (king size), regular colas and more. 182 lbs quickly went toward 230+ lbs. In those ten years, despite perfect health insurance, I visited a Dr a total of twice and ignored most warning signs form my body – tingling toes and fingertips, the slight blurring of the vision when consuming desserts, and the expanding waistline. Diagnosis came through an insurance physical in Jan 1999 and I had joined the growing statistic of T2 diabetics.

As a T2 diabetic, I fought weight since the original diagnosis in 1999. Though I added exercise to my regimen, tried the south beach diet, and more, consistency was my problem with any regimen.  Having hated any form of exercise. I tried running, walking, biking, swimming, etc and hated it. I tried it solo and with a partner and hated it. I tried it over lunch, early mornings, and late evenings and hated it. So blood sugars (specifically A1c) swung between 6.5-8 throughout those years. Meds were on the rise – in dosage and quantity – and a clear medication path was ahead of me. I planned my will etc. to the point of accepting natural end of life by 75.

At the doctors and diabetes books’ insistence, I tried my hand at exercise but nothing seemed to stick – from treadmills to elliptical machines, from running and walking to even a home ‘gym’ – one of those “as seen on TV’ contraptions. #epicfails  A few attempts at carb control would bring the weight down but habits and work, stress and travel, and ultimately lack of self-control would erase away any weight loss quickly.

I was pretty frustrated with this until a chance email from a YMCA encouraged me to a program designed for diabetics — “Move Well Today“. Advertised as a program to help gain control over diabetes, something clicked and I went in for an initial meeting. Wes, the instructor and coordinator for the program at our Y, interviewed me, asked about my numbers, and ran me through a series of simple exercises – finding range of motion, ability, strength factors, and finally a physical profile of weight/height/BMI/muscle mass etc.

The class began weekly with a 10 min cardio warmup – do whatever you can do to move and warm up the muscles. My poison of choice became the elliptical and the 100 cals or so that burned in the warm up became easier. Some participants walked, others rode stationary bikes, and others ran. Following warm up was another series of leg/arm movements – hip circles, walking lunges, lunge/twist and others.  Upper body exercises followed with bicep curls, t-raises, standing push-ups and others. Another 10 minutes of cardio followed by lower body work of calf-raises, back strengthening movements, and more and finally some core work and cool down. Interesting hour’s worth of full-body for those unaccustomed to exercise.

I was probably one of the younger members of the class yet connected with the program. Students consisted of 20-something to upper 70s, and many came to the class with very limited ROM. I was not limited in my ROM, but looking out the gym’s windows made me acutely aware of what lay ahead of me if I didn’t act now : the sight of “Iowa Heart center”, “Mercy Hospital”, “Iowa Methodist Hospital”, various cancer and orthopedic centers visible from the giant windows of the Y – reminding me that it was either here or across the street ‘there’. Serious motivators indeed.

I became both a regular to the class and started to move up/higher in my weight selections, reps, and ROM during class. According to body mass indicators, in a mere six months more than 20lbs of fat had been converted to muscle. I felt great, and a metabolic profile at the doctor confirmed internals agreeing with the impact of regular workouts. In addition to the weekly class, our instructors encouraged (and I mostly followed) 2-3 more days of cardio in form of walking, elliptical or treadmill machines, or even stationary bikes.

A key change began to occur during the final two months of attending class. As always we’d begin and end class by measuring our blood-glucose. This was primarily to ensure that we weren’t too low on blood glucose before class and to begin measuring the affect of exercise. I’d normally start with 120s and end with 70-90s by end of class. Toward the last two months, I routinely observed these numbers to begin in the low 100s but end in 140+. Alarmed, I started to research and found that once exercise increased in intensity, these numbers would indeed rise temporarily before falling to normal levels within the next hour or so. This was normal and positive as long as I wasn’t entering hypoglycemia. I wasn’t; the class had provided me with key benefits I hadn’t experienced before –

  • community – fellow classmates became friends despite our age differences
  • accountability – being part of the community forced me to show up weekly
  • disease understanding – the education portions, though sometimes repetitive for me, remained helpful
  • regular moving and increasing intensity – the body was telling me that this class had worked in getting me to enjoy the workout

It was time to up the game and join my wife’s strength training class – Bodypump.