Forget the apple.
A recent National Institutes of Health study1 showed that for people with pre-diabetes, ages 45 to 75, moderate-intensity exercise or walking about 11 miles per week, “may be nearly as effective as a more intensive multi-component approach involving diet, exercise and weight loss for preventing the progression to diabetes in prediabetic individuals.”
While I’ve had type 2 diabetes for close to 30 years, I’m here to say that as a once sedentary individual, I was able to forestall my diabetes for at least nine years by taking up a moderate exercise program.
Flash backwards: It was college graduation week and I had been feeling really, really tired. Worn out in a way that I hadn’t ever experienced, thirsty and cotton-mouthed. My father had diabetes, but to a 22-year-old, such a diagnosis seemed extremely remote, meant for old and sick people.
What did it have to do with me?
Quite a lot, it turned out.
An observant uncle who was a doctor at Johns Hopkins suggested that I take a glucose tolerance test. The results showed that I was way over the danger zone.
Since I was in Boston, he suggested that I head to Joslin Diabetes Center, but stubborn in the way young adults can be, I refused. I didn’t want to have diabetes. I had never lost my freshman 15, and probably needed to lose a few pounds more than that but I had a crazy sense that I could manage on my own though I knew little about the disease.
Based on nothing but this instinct, I started to eat a healthier diet. It wasn’t easy but I reduced my consumption of sweets. I cut out alcohol. And though it was really hard for someone who had never been very athletic or coordinated, I started pushing myself through the streets of my small college town, adding a street or so a week, walking and then eventually jogging, until I took off the 15 plus.
When I moved to D.C. early the next year for my first job and went in for a physical, I told my doctor about my history. He administered a blood glucose test and found out my sugars were in the normal range. By that time I was running 5 Ks and thinking about training for a half-marathon.
But while he told me he was pleased with my results, he also warned that I wasn’t out of danger. Given the poor results of my initial glucose tolerance test, there was a good chance that I could develop diabetes.
In the end, the doctor was right: I did develop diabetes. First gestational diabetes with my first pregnancy, then, seven years later, with my second.
Then, a few years later, type 2.
But from the ages of 22 to 31, I’m convinced that running helped me forestall my diagnosis of full-blown diabetes.
Now that I am older and (I hope) wiser, I know I probably should have gone to Joslin and let the endocrinologists help me. I was lucky that I didn’t get sicker and that my instincts turned out to be right: that exercise was the secret sauce for me.