I was 45 when I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, quite by accident. I got poison ivy for the first time in my life, and it turned bad enough for me to have a blood test. That's when I found out my blood sugar was high.
My doctor prescribed medication and told me to eat right, exercise, and stop smoking. Yeah, right. I was a father of two, working a stressful job, supporting my family, paying for college, and doing all the other things family life demands of you.
My wife and I did join the YMCA and start exercising: step aerobics, working out on the weight equipment. I lost some pounds, and my A1C dropped. But one day I had a dizzy spell while exercising and fell to the floor. It scared me. I stopped exercising with the weight equipment. Eventually, I stopped the aerobics. I fell into a routine of taking multiple pills, eating too much, and living with type 2 diabetes.
Into my 50s, I continued my habits of no exercise and no real changes in diet. My weight topped out at about 220 pounds (I'm 5-foot-10). My sugar readings, when I took them at all, were all over the place. My cholesterol and triglycerides weren't on target. I felt a lot of stress in my desk job and was distracted by cigarettes. I put more effort into thinking about quitting smoking than into actually doing it.
Early last year, though, the pressure I had begun feeling in my chest became too much to ignore. During one episode, I went to the hospital. The result: At 59, I had a triple heart bypass.
My new cardio doctor told me to walk every day—for the rest of my life—to exercise my heart and to focus on reducing salt in my diet. I had new motivation, including watching my two grandsons grow up. I finally quit smoking and quietly set some daily goals for myself: eat less than 2,000 mg of sodium, and walk at least 30 minutes. A hospital rehabilitation program taught me how to properly use weight-training equipment and monitor my heart rate. I was bound and determined to eat more healthy foods.
My journey back to health has been educational. My diet today is very different from the one I had two years ago, and I'm completely satisfied with it. My exercise program is one I can maintain for the rest of my life. I have reduced my diabetes medication. My cardio doctor said I could be a poster boy for healthy living—very motivating! As I write, I'm down to 174 pounds, my cholesterol is excellent, and my A1C is 5.4.
And I finally figured out how to reduce my stress. I retired at the beginning of this year. My short-term goals are to lose a bit more weight in hopes of eliminating my diabetes medication. My long-term goals? To keep working on my short-term goals.
Did I mention that none of this would have been possible without the support of my wife of 41 years? She exercises and walks with me. She completely changed how she cooks. We motivate each other. And we're really enjoying watching our grandsons grow up.
Gary Torrez, a retired information technology executive, lives in Baltimore with his wife (and childhood sweetheart), Sharon.
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