"John, you look great! What did you do?" My endocrinologist was amazed. My A1C was down to 5.5, the lowest it had been since I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes 15 years ago, and I had lost 25 pounds.
Diabetes seems to be as much a part of my family's genetic makeup as our blue eyes and blond hair. My father had diabetes. Last year, one of my sisters died of complications of type 2, and I have two other sisters living with type 2.
Since my diagnosis, my A1C has always hovered right around 6, without medication. So I ate what I wanted and did what I wanted, and wasn't worried about my weight. It took a vacation plan last year to get me to take my health more seriously.
I was planning a summer trip to the Grand Canyon, where my four sons and I would take a dory down the mighty Colorado River. The trip would be 15 days of rafting, plus hiking up and down the sides of canyons. We would raft through some of the biggest white-water rapids in the world.
The mirror told me that, at 69, I was old, out of shape, and overweight. I had taken this trip five other times when I was younger, so I knew the rigors. I knew that dragging 250 pounds of myself through the stinking hot desert in August—daily temperatures reached 105 degrees last year—would be painful.
So I set a plan to get into shape. And this time, I had a good incentive to really stick with it. To begin, I started eating less after the holidays. No rigorous diet—just less candy, fewer treats, and healthier food. For instance, I traded my after-dinner dessert of ice cream for an apple.
I also joined a health club, which included 10 sessions with a personal trainer. The trainer taught me how to use various machines and helped me set up an exercise program. I quickly got into a routine at the club. I did my best to be there every other day at least, and I spent two hours cycling, lifting weights, and swimming. As the weather improved, I also started walking every morning, first thing. My plan worked: By the time of my mid-August trip, I was in pretty good shape. I had newfound strength and I was ready to go.
The two weeks of adventure were amazing. Although I was just a few months shy of my 70th birthday, I was not an old man. One day, we hiked up a steep incline to get to the ancient Anasazi Indian granaries built into the cliffs about 650 feet above river level. At the top, there was no huffing and puffing—I had made it!
I even made new friends on the trip. One of our guides, Wendy, had just been diagnosed with type 1. She was just learning how to manage her diabetes, and we encouraged each other throughout the trip.
I am so glad that I went to the Grand Canyon last summer. I loved sharing my sons' company, rafting on the huge rapids, sleeping under a star-studded sky, and meeting a great group of strangers who quickly became friends. And on top of it all, I now enjoy a healthier future.
John G. Arch is a general-practice attorney. His wife, Judith, is a certified diabetes educator. The Arches live in Pittsburgh.