For most of the 11 years I have had Type 2 Diabetes, I’ve done some sort of exercise on a daily basis. If you’ve read some of my earlier blogs, you’ve learned that elevated glucose (sugar) in your bloodstream will either kill you or wreck your physiology, meaning, you’ll be in pain (neuropathy), damage your heart, liver, eyes, etc., and in the course of time, you won’t be able to live a normal life. Many of the maladies stemming from diabetes can be avoided, provided you eat properly and exercise. In short, if you exercise, glucose from your bloodstream is driven into your muscles or fat cells, seemingly without the necessity of taking lots of supplements or drugs (except for those who have Type 1 diabetes, who must have insulin injections).
For those who don’t know me personally, let me give you a bit of background. First and foremost, I am not a “jock”. Though no one told me, I have learned, over time, that I am not coordinated. As a kid I didn’t participate in competitive sports (football, basketball, baseball), which meant, I didn’t have to workout to be part of a team. That changed when I enrolled in advanced ROTC during my college years. For some reason, the Army expected me to be in good shape, and during boot camp, the drill sergeants worked me out every day, with all sorts of calisthenics. This came before breakfast, and I hated it, but then, I didn’t like being in the Army either. Pushups and running “in formation”, in combat boots, was not how I wanted to start the day.
After 2 years serving Uncle Sam, I quickly settled into a job, where I sit at a desk or conference table, and spend lots of time in front of a computer screen. After age 30, I noticed that I was gaining weight. Since I am a vain person, I took steps (most of them stupid steps) to fill myself up with foods that had little substance to them, because I thought this would help me lose weight: I ate rice cakes or peanut butter and bread sandwiches for lunch, and drank lots of coffee, in an effort to curb my appetite. This didn’t work. So I bought a rowing machine, which turned out to be a worthless piece of equipment. I tried doing pushups and jumping rope. That was not helpful. Next, I bought a treadmill, and I used it with limited success. That didn’t work very well, either. The only remedy turned up in the fashion industry — pleated trousers came into vogue, and these hid my pot belly. So I coasted for years, and no one could see my jelly belly.
Then catastrophe came: in 2004 and at age 61, I was told I had contracted Type 2 diabetes. At that time, I did not realize the value exercise might have helped me. But now, the family physician told me to join a health club and visit with a dietician. Since my brother-in-law had contracted Type 2 diabetes a few years before, I didn’t consult with a dietician, but rather, listened to my sister-in-law, whose sage advice on eating habits was accurate but I fought it every step of the way. I was not going to give up pizza and cookies.
Fran (my wife) was the family’s chef, and she began adjusting our meals, and also coaxed me to join a health club. My fitness trainer knew lots about nutrition, and gave me hints on the types of food suitable for athletes who work out. Since I wasn’t an athlete, I was stuck with resistance training, using the dozens of weight machines at the gym, and I put my treadmill back into use. In time, using a revised diet and some medications (first Avandia, then Metformin), my blood glucose readings were brought under control.
I now come to the most important part of my exercise routines, which came as a result of using the treadmill. I built a reading stand for the treadmill. The stand permits me to read lots of books while I walk on the treadmill, I have increased my knowledge base on foods, physiology, minerals, and lots of other things. To date, I still use the reading stand, which holds either an iPad or Kindle Fire, and I am entertained and educated while I walk.
One of the first things I learned about exercise were the benefits of aerobic and anaerobic workouts. Gretchen Becker (The First Year, Type 2 Diabetes) advocated aerobic exercise, so that was my “ticket” to success. Problem was, as I read other materials on “beating” diabetes, those who wrote on the topic seemingly insisted that everyone engage in resistance training (anaerobic exercise).
The easiest addition to my walking regimen was to buy an elliptical machine, which had “arm handles”. So I gave my treadmill to my oldest son, and got a Nautilis elliptical machine from Sears. This was a rear wheel driven device, which required periodic repairs, but the elliptical gave me good workouts. Later on, I traded it in for a front wheel driven elliptical machine made by Octane; during the 4 years we’ve owned it, it has never had one repair. Octane products are front wheel drive machines (less moving parts than the rear wheel driven machines made by Precor, Nautilis, and others). I attribute its mechanical design as the reason no repairs have been required.
As with the treadmill, I built a reading stand for the elliptical.
Not long after I joined the health club, and switched from a treadmill to an elliptical machine, I read that glucose either floats in your bloodstream (not good), or it is pushed into fat cells or muscles. It made sense to me that if I increased the size of my muscles, they could absorb more glucose at a faster rate than if I spent 30 minutes on the elliptical. I knew then that I had to do more resistance training.
During that era Bowflex advertised a lot on TV, and I had seen some units at Dick’s Sporting goods stores in Dallas. However, they were big and ugly (not something to go in a living room or a bedroom). Fran wouldn’t like that. And I knew very little about what a Bowflex would do. So I bought a used copy of a book, the Bowflex Body Plan by Ellington Darden, PhD. The author (a former Mr. America) knew his stuff, and I was quickly convinced that a Bowflex would, over time, give me the resistance training I needed. Just think, 15 minutes a day, 3 days a week, and I would be fixed.
I spent lots of time on the phone with Bowflex sales people, and even found that Amazon sold one model. Being the cost conscience person that I am, I opted for the less expensive Amazon model, and after ordering it, the large boxes arrived. Putting this device together is another story (http://www.jhbpc.com/Estate-Planning-In-Depth/composite.htm), but after 4 fours we got it together and started using it.
FYI, I continue to use the Bowflex, three times a week (as well as dumbbells and a chin up bar, which fastens to a doorframe).
So why all of this background? To let you know that I am not some NFL sized linebacker, with rippling muscles and an overbearing personality, who gets in your face with what you have to do to stay in good health. I’m average in size and am prone to being an introvert. But I have controlled my blood glucose levels, and exercise is a key component to how I am doing it.
What about the medical community’s attitude towards resistance training? The medical profession is finally endorsing both cardio and resistance training, not only for people like me, but for those who want to avoid Alzheimer’s, ADHD, Parkinson’s, cardio issues, and a number of other neurological problems. The most outspoken physician on the topic is Brett Osborn, a 43 year old neurosurgeon, who could have been a stunt man for the Incredible Hulk. His book, Get Serious, may be the most comprehensive treatise on resistance training and physiology I’ve encountered.
But let me backtrack a minute. If you follow new books on health related topics, you will have (or should have) learned about Wheat Belly, a 2014 best seller by Dr. William Davis, an American cardiologist, who documented the benefits of eliminating gluten from our diets. Besides the benefits of losing weight and feeling better, the gluten-free diet can eliminate neurological problems, most of which contribute to a host of mental maladies. Davis’ findings were amplified by David Perlmutter, a Florida neurologist, who eschews gluten as the progenitor of Alzheimer’s, ADHD, migraine headaches, epilepsy, schizophrenia, insomnia, and other ailments. Grain Brain is scary reading, if you are addicted to pizza, cinnamon rolls, and bread products.
So there are some pretty good resources on changing your diet, if you are concerned about Alzheimer’s and ADHD.
But in 2014 there was more to come from the medical community. The ink was barely dry on these two treatises when Dr. Brett Osborn published Get Serious, which not only endorses better diets, but advocates that we engage in heavy duty weight training, as the preferred means of avoiding and eliminating all of the ailments mentioned by Davis and Perlmutter. Osborn believes weight training will protect us from arthritis, type 2 diabetes, strokes, spine disorders, and most cancers.
Most of us, me included, will not take the steps Osborn recommends. But let me give you an eagle eye’s view of some of the materials in his book.
The medical industry is very skilled at keeping people alive once they’ve been afflicted with a stroke, had a heart attack, suffer from dementia, broken some bones, and so forth. That is good, because we need solution for physical problems. But is our goal in life to deal with problems after they happen? Can’t we avoid some of these issues?
Osborn says “yes”, and here’s his approach.
- First, identify the risk factors for future problems. He suggests a battery of blood tests, but also wants you to understand that you are in control of your homeostasis (your body in its “best condition”).
- At this point, you may disagree with his conclusion, and argue, “I am what I am; I can’t control my DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid)”. To this, he points out that environmental stimuli can “turn a gene on or off”, such as using nutrients to help reduce stress, and build good bone structure through enhanced muscle mass. Osborn believes that “all diseases have an inflammatory component, all of them. And this is where we should focus our efforts primarily, from a preventive standpoint . . . (we need to) limit free radical production and reduce oxidative stress.”
- So how do we do this? Genes are affected by bad stimuli, such as poor nutrition, tobacco smoke, and a lack of exercise. The collateral damage from bad stimuli will affect your genes, resulting in diseases which could be prevented. But you can rebuild your own genes (remember Dolly the cloned sheep?).
- Osborn’s starting point begins with understanding the benefits of strength training. When you lift weights, and strain your muscles, your body responds by a tissue repair process, and produces anti-inflammatory cytokines (immune system signaling molecules), which facilitate muscle recovery. These cytokines are “stored”, but are ammunition for whatever inflammation might come your way.
- When you exercise with weights, your body will release nasty free radicals, and lactic acid will make you sore. But again, your body will generate antioxidants, which neutralize the free radicals. You are adding reserves, which will be used to overcome the free radicals.
- Exercise also alters the progression of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. These “beneficial effects are thought to be related to an augmented antioxidant status, increased cerebral blood flow, and potentially enhanced neurogenesis.” At the cellular level, exercise “works” the brain.
- Resistance training increases and releases good hormones, such as testosterone and growth hormone. Total body protein stores will also be increased. This improves your capacity to heal, as well as increaseing your immune system reserves.
- Therefore, start a resistance training program.
- Now Dr. Osborn recommends a rugged workout, 5 days a week. Squats. Deadlifts. Bench presses. Overhead press. Pull ups. Chin ups. All with weight sets. No dumbbells, bands, medicine balls, or light weight stuff. Nothing but heavy duty equipment.
This exercise routine is more than I can handle, so for the time being, I’ll stick with what I’ve got. But I’m not going to “exercise” anymore. From now on (and for the foreseeable future) I’m going to do daily workouts (and call them “workouts”). Since starting my workout sessions, my BG levels have dropped one half a point, from 6.2 to 5.7 (A1C).
So let me be specific and tell you exactly what I do. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, I stretch with dumbbells, then do pull ups and chin ups. After that warmup, I begin the 15 to 20 minute Bowflex session. I follow Ellington Darden’s suggestions: 12 reps per set, and about 12 – 15 sets of exercises. After Bowflex, I workout on the elliptical for about 12 minutes. On those days, and after the evening meal (which is a light meal), I either walk 2 miles outside (weather permitting) or use the elliptical for 12 minutes.
On Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday, I use the elliptical both before breakfast and after the evening meal, until I burn 227 calories (which is about 2.5 miles), during each session. In other words, I walk about 5 miles on the elliptical.
If your back or feet prohibit your use of a treadmill or elliptical, consider the “elliptical recumbent bike”, made by Octane. This “new” technology may provide the benefits of an elliptical, as well as give some resistance training, all while you are in a sitting position.
I’m not suggesting you adopt my routine, but keep in mind, it has improved my blood glucose numbers.
Here’s the warning: Physicians and trainers will tell you never workout (or exercise) until a physician gives you a green light to proceed. I agree. If you have a cardiac condition, or some other prohibitive situation, don’t get carried away with the benefits touted by Drs. Osborn or Darden. But if you can exercise, I hope you’ll get excited at what workouts will do for you.
What to eat?
After I read the Omnivore’s Dilemma, a very good book on foods, I stumbled onto Marion Nestle’s What to Eat. The book was endorsed by Michael Pollen (the author who penned The Omnivore’s Dilemma), so I checked it out from library, then later got it as a requested Christmas gift. It is a keeper.
Nestle is a nutritionist and investigative reporter, and she gave me a quick but much needed education on food choices. For example, I learned there were no universal standards for grading foods as “organic”, nor was there any nutritional difference between white eggs and brown eggs (and sometimes no difference between range free eggs and ordinary eggs).
Rather than read the college text Understanding Nutrition (which I do recommend), borrow a copy of Nestle’s book, What to Eat from your library.
With that book in mind, let me skip this month’s recipe, and make a suggestion for buying meats.
Let’s start with beef, all of which is graded by the USDA as being either prime, choice or select. From a buyer’s perspective, beef is very, very expensive (prime is expensive, and ultra expensive if you buy Kobe beef). Choice is somewhat expensive (choice), and select is “bargain” priced. Those who grade the beef (after it has been slaughtered) look for lots of “marbling” (fat), so the meat will taste juicy and good.
Unless last year, neither Fran nor I had intentionally bought prime beef (nor have we bought or tasted Kobe beef). We made the mistake of buying a discount package from a local Tulsa butcher market (that was a bad, bad mistake; the meat, which had to have been “select”, was tough and tasteless). So last fall, with the encouragement of my college roommate (whom I’ve known over 50 years), we bought a prime rib eye steak, and I cooked it on the Big Green Egg.
The first thing we noticed was the tenderness: we didn’t cut it with a fork, but we weren’t distracted by any “chewy” characteristics. Second, the flavor was much better than the choice rib eyes we were used to. Finally, the charcoal flavor of the BGE made this steak a great meal.
The contrast between prime meat and select meat is qualitative, but I was surprised how much better the ‘prime’ cut was than the ‘choice meats’ I was accustomed to eating.
Besides grading of beef (prime, choice and select), cattle are either pasture fed (“grass fed”) or grain fed (“corn fed”). Since cattle don’t naturally eat corn, the chemists from Iowa State (and other places) developed a cereal-like food from corn, which is routinely given to cattle, to fatten them up for market.
Americans have become so accustomed to the taste, they think that “corn fed beef” is the preferred type of meat. Nutritionists have a problem with this, however, for our diets are so loaded with corn products that we all have grown fat and sick, because of added calories and nutrients associated with corn. So, for a healthier diet, splurge and buy some grass fed beef.
The final “beef” component deals not with cattle, but with bison (buffalo) and elk, both of which are grass fed. Both meats have less fat than beef, and if the meats are intentionally “undercooked”, the flavor is superior to prime beef (if either bison or elk are cooked to ‘medium’, the meat will be tough and chewy).
The problem with buying pasture fed, prime beef, or bison or elk, is, of course, the price. As a populace, we simply elect not to spend our food dollars on exotic cuts of beef.
However, this month’s recipe is a suggestion: buy some prime rib eye or sirloin, and cook it. At some point in your life, treat yourself to something really, really good.