“Chronic” means that there’s no cure; it doesn’t go away (despite unreliable claims to the contrary you may see on the internet).
“Progressive” means that—as the years go by—it gets worse and worse.
Here’s what you have to look forward to, if you don’t manage type 2 diabetes over the long haul:
- increased risk of a heart attack or stroke,
- irreversible damage to your eyes, kidneys, and blood vessels, and
- blindness, kidney failure, and amputation of all or part of your legs
YOU: Wait a minute. Am I reading this right? A person can have this terrible disease and still be really healthy?
ME: Yes, but first you need to know that you have it. There’s one thing worse than knowing that you have type 2 diabetes, and that’s having it and not knowing it. The reason is that if you don’t know your have the disease, you’re not managing it to avoid long-term, progressive damage.
In fact, the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse estimated that in 2007, there were 23.6 million people with type 2 diabetes in the U.S., including 5.7 million people who didn’t know that they had it. This happens because a person may have no symptoms or have symptoms but avoid going to a doctor or attribute his symptoms to some other less serious condition.
But I know that I have type 2 diabetes, and here’s what I’m doing to be really healthy anyway.
1. Getting regular check-ups
I see my doctor (or the physician’s assistant) three times a year and see an ophthalmologist once a year to check my retinas. So far my retinas are normal.
2. Exercising nearly every day
Usually I walk 2 to 3 miles at a moderate rate and track my exercise on the President’s Challenge website at www.presidentschallenge.org. In August, for example, I exercised on 25 out of 31 days. It’s not a chore, because I love being out on the Burke-Gilman Trail (shown above) with its spectacular views of Lake Washington and the Cascade Mountains and the dazzling array of birds.
3. Eating a healthful diet
I also love to cook and share a tasty, nutritious meal with my BF. Last night we had Coho salmon from Alaska, sourdough wheat bread, and stir-fried vegetables (a yummy mix of kohlrabi, bok choy, red bell pepper, sweet onion, and green beans). For desert we each had a 100-calorie CarbSmart fudge bar made with Splenda instead of sugar.
My BF also has type 2 diabetes. He told me that when he got the diagnosis, one of his fears was that he’d have to “eat cardboard for the rest of my life.” And when a nutritionist told him that he should eat more fish, he was dismayed. He hated fish or at least he thought he did, until he took a job in Seattle and started eating Pacific salmon (and met me).
4. Measuring my blood glucose levels
When you have Type 2 diabetes, your body can’t control the levels of glucose (sugar) in your blood. So the glucose levels go too high (which causes progressive damage) or too low (which is generally easy and quick to treat by consuming something with sugar in it).
Because of the type and amount of food I eat, my blood glucose levels don’t tend to go very high. So I don’t need to measure them very often. Sometimes, I take a reading before a meal and two hours afterward to see how I’m doing.
But I always measure my blood glucose before I start to exercise. If the levels are a little low, I’ll carry an energy bar with me or even eat it before I set out.
5. Taking my medications
I also take my medications religously, using my nerdy plastic pill-case with the days of the week on it. Every day I take a statin drug to control high-cholesterol (which I’ve had ever since I was in my thirties).
Initially, my doctor also prescribed a drug to treat diabetes, but later it turned out that I no longer needed it because I was managing so well by diet and exercise alone. I was very happy to hear that.
YOU: OK, You convinced me. Sort of. I guess you can be really healthy, even if you have type 2 diabetes. But I still hope I don’t get it.
ME: I hope so too! My life would be simpler if I didn’t have type 2 diabetes, but think of it this way: The regular doctor’s appointments, eating healthy, and exercising regularly are things I should be doing anyway. In fact, they’re things I was doing anyway. They’re things everyone should be doing anyway (except for the extra doctor’s appointments).
So the only thing I do to be really healthy—that I wouldn’t be doing anyway—is measuring my blood glucose. And that’s become such a habit that I barely think of it.
Photo by Bjorn