Diabetes Alert Day - And A Personal Story

March 24, 2014

   Tomorrow is the American Diabetes Association Alert Day. It's a day we're reminded to take the Diabetes Risk Test to find out if you are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes. The test is available year round.

   Do you or someone in your family have diabetes? Diabetes runs in my family. Both my parents were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in the their mid 50s. They were diagnosed in the days when urine was tested for glucose . 

   Of people who have diabetes about 90 percent have type 2, which occurs when for some unknown reason the body cannot use insulin effectively. The pancreas is designed to produce enough insulin for the body. But if the body does not use insulin effectively, over time the production decreases. Sugar builds up in the blood and overflows into the urine. It passes out unused, depriving the body of an important source of energy.

   My fathers life with diabetes is what I wish to share with you. In the early 80’s we were noticing our usually active and energetic father tiring easily. Always one to stay well-hydrated, his constant thirst was something that we noticed.

  A visit to his primary care physician resulted in diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. The doctor set up a treatment plan of regular glucose monitoring, diet change, daily walks and medication. With careful monitoring and implementation the new regime allowed dad to stabilize his condition for another 20 years. He even took up motorcycle riding, something he had always wanted to do. Frequent rides to the beach replaced my childhood memories of week-end sailing excursions. 

  In early 2001 my mom, his wife of 39 years, passed away and dad's diligence with taking care of his condition began to waiver. In his early 70’s he ate out more frequently and began to ignore some of his dietary restrictions. Depression found him sitting more and instead of several walks a week and motorcycle rides, he switched to movie watching from the sofa and snacking. My visits often included long walks with him along the waterfront, gym workouts and comfortable strolls heading for a meal or coffee break. As time passed dad moved to Leisure World in Seal Beach, California, which offered lots of activities and companionship.

  In October 2009 dad was diagnosed with emphysema. That explained his shortness of breath and fatigue. Shortly thereafter he became an insulin dependent diabetic. Now having to give himself shots several times a day his little blue bag and ice chest became his new companion. At 77 dad’s memory faded and the constant need for oxygen made his ability to recall things a real chore - notes and timers were added to his regime. 

   With these new conditions problems soon arose. He would forget to administer his insulin, or forget he had already done so, or forget to eat. The paramedics became familiar with his address and his condition... as well as his local hospital. After hospital stays dad would return home bright eyed and peppy back to the father I knew reaping the benefits of regular meals, consistent medication and monitoring. It didn’t take long, once he was home, before this scenario would be repeated.

   My father passed away on June 10, 2013 taking his last breath at home as he wished. He was 82.

   I write this in honor of him but also to share this story to remind that life with diabetes can be as full as you want it to be if you take all the steps needed to keep it under control.

The HF Connection to Heart Health

February 17, 2014

   During this American Heart Month it's been good even for me to take a moment and consider my own health as I write these blogs and post to Facebook. I love finding a new recipe or a new angle on fitness to promote heart health. But there does come a time to be reminded of the reason for lifestyle changes and that is to avoid heart failure, the number one cause of death in the United States.

   I like Wikipedia's entry on heart failure and I quote the definition in the first paragraph which defines it pretty well:
"Heart failure or HF (often called congestive heart failure, CHF, or congestive cardiac failure, CCF) occurs when the heart is unable to provide sufficient pump action to maintain blood flow to meet the needs of the body. Heart failure can cause a number of symptoms including shortness of breath, leg swelling, and exercise intolerance. The condition is diagnosed with a physical examination by your physician and confirmed with an echocardiogram."
There are a number of causes of heart failure and here are the most common ones:
  • Coronary artery disease, a narrowing of the small blood vessels that supply blood and oxygen to the heart weakening the heart over time or suddenly

  • High blood pressure leading to problems with stiffness or eventually leading to the heart weakening

  • Heart valves that are leaky or narrowed
  • Infection that weakens the heart muscle
  • Congenital Heart Disease, the most common kind of heart birth defect

Here are a number of lifestyle changes that can make a difference to avoid heart failure:
  • Exercise. Heart healthy exercises include things like handcycling, rowing, walking, hiking, swimming, spinning, aerobics, Zumba, basketball, jump rope, stair or elliptical training, cross country skiing, Nordic walking, inline skating, cycling, etc. See your doctor and begin a program of exercising within your target heart rate.
  • Eat heart healthy foods. Vegetables and fruits are powerful allies in keeping your heart healthy.
  • Lower your salt intake. It can make a significant difference and I think it's the easiest change to make. Sodium helps the body to  hold excess fluid creating an added burden on the heart. The recommended daily allowance is 1500 mg daily. Purchasing fruits and vegetables at your local farmers market and cooking things yourself helps you control sodium intake.
  • Lower your sugar intake. There's a high degree of connection between too much sugar consumption and cardiovascular diseases. Careful choices about the processed foods you eat, sodas and desserts can make a big difference.
  • Stop smoking. Smoking increases blood pressure, decreases HDL (good cholesterol), decreases exercise tolerance and increases the tendency for blood to clot. Smoking also increases the risk of recurrent coronary heart disease after bypass surgery.
  • Cut down on alcohol. Heavy alcohol consumption has detrimental effects on blood pressure.

  • Lose weight. If you're overweight then weight loss can make it easier on your heart. Your heart pumps blood through your veins and arteries. Your lungs take in oxygen and send it to your blood. The stronger your heart is, the more easily it pumps more blood throughout your body. If your heart is weak it has to work harder to provide you with fresh blood and oxygen.

  • Lower your cholesterol. Like small tumors, plaques of cholesterol and other substances form in the artery walls and eventually the passageway for blood becomes clogged. Less blood flow means less oxygen for the heart muscle. Chest pain (angina) occurs, usually following exercise or excitement. When the blood supply is completely cut off, a part of the heart muscle dies—this is a heart attack.
  • Get plenty of rest. Our lives have become so busy and full that we forget to take time out to sit quietly and rest. And we often don't get enough sleep. Our hearts need time for rejuvenation. If we want it to last it needs to rest.

6 Ways to Lower Sugar Intake and Take Care of Your Heart

February 8, 2014

   A report in The Journal of the American Medical Association just a few days ago showed that over consumption of sugar is bad for the heart. The good news is reducing your intake of sugar doesn't have to be painful.

   I'm a big believer that fitness and health changes almost always result in the feeling of getting some years back. And cutting down on a high sugar intake is one of the biggies in terms of impact. I'm also a believer that it's best to make small permanent changes than attempting something radical. Here are my top 6 ways a person can wean themselves off of sugary foods.

[1] Take it Slowly

   Don't delete everything on the first day. Eat half a dessert, put half the amount of jelly you'd normally have on toast, cut the sugar in your coffee in half.

   Mix sweetened and unsweetened foods together like soy milk (which is sweetened) with unsweetened soy milk. Mixing like that is a great way to cut down on your intake. Start half and half, and over time decrease the amount of the sugared food and increase the unsugared.

   Give yourself time, like a month or two, to let these changes become how you simply do things. Your taste buds will acclimate to less and less sweetness. Choosing fresh fruit over a piece of cake will be a no-brainer.

[2] Drink Water

   Drinking water, especially in the morning, is a healthy thing to do. And when it comes to warding off sugar cravings, water is one of your best friends. The body can confuse thirst with a sugar craving so it's easy to down a candy bar when, in fact, your body actually wanted water. Stay hydrated throughout the day and fire a preemptive strike at sugar cravings.

[3] Make Your Own

   You may feel you don't have the time to make food but if heart health is important enough to you, you'll find you are able to make lifestyle changes and wonder why you never did it earlier. If you have a sweet tooth, learning to cook could be one of the best lifestyle changes you could make. Recipes for low and no sugar pies, cakes and desserts like these are all over the Internet.

   One great way to wean yourself off sodas is to switch to ice tea which you make yourself. Don't feel guilty about sugaring it in the beginning but cut back on the amount you add over time. Your taste buds will adjust.

   Making your own also enables you to stay away from processed foods which often have a surprisingly high amount of sugar added. Avoid all that and, for example, make your own spaghetti sauce or your own salad dressing from olive and balsamic vinegar. Incorporate these heart healthy foods into your diet to replace those processed foods.

[4] Eradicate One Big Source of Sugar

   Okay, I wrote "take it slowly" earlier but in this case targeting one big villain, like candy, ice cream or soda can give you a sense of a great head start. Let's say ice cream is the target. Make it off limits. Have a bad breakup, before suffering a literal heart break, and never go back. The next time you're in the grocery store and you pass by the ice cream, instead of looking at it wishing you could take some home, see it as something you used to know but it just didn't work - been there done that, you've moved on.

[5] Eat Breakfast

   Often times the desire for sugar throughout the day is a result of not having enough fuel in the morning. Eat a healthy breakfast full of whole grains (especially oatmeal) and fruits, and it will help you turn down candy and sugary energy bars later in the day.

[6] Exercise

   An exercise program can help you feel more invested in making healthy food changes like reducing sugar. And if you're putting in the miles walking, running, hiking, swimming or cycling you'll get the benefits of a chemical that rivals sugar (and a lot better for you) in terms of how it makes you feel: endorphins. When your body releases endorphins it gives you a good mood lift to help quell the withdrawal symptoms of sugar reduction.