HEALTH & FITNESS - Exercise pays in fight against diabetes

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Reporter Sheila Hagar has immersed herself in learning about diabetes and is chronicling the experience. This is No. 6 of the series. These columns do not contain all information about diabetes and should not replace medical advice from a diabetes professional.

I don't think it's any secret exercise and I have not been going steady most of my life.

I was the pudgy kid in the class from fourth grade on. Not the chunkiest most years, but never far from the top. In sixth grade I suffered humiliation when a peer was assigned to help our teacher record student weights and heights during some bizarre health day.

When that student came to my desk to ostensibly make sure he'd recorded my weight correctly, I wished to melt into a puddle of hot shame.

Four-plus decades later, I'd welcome that same weight with open arms. I'd be flaunting that number, posting it on Facebook every day.

Oh, I've had spurts of acting like a happy exerciser. There have even been times when I believed working out could become a natural habit. But I've never drunk the Kool-Aid, so to speak.

Let's call a spade a spade - exercise is just hard for all but the freaks of nature and there are already so many things that are hard … getting up in a cold house, locking yourself out of your car, grocery shopping again and again. Going to work on the days your kids beg you to stay home.

All hard. Why top off that tall glass of misery?

I answer with firm footing in the camp of workout wimps. Aerobic exercise, as in the huffing and puffing kind, increases insulin sensitivity. Meaning your little ol' blood cells can remember how to use the glucose in your system for energy. Along with good nutrition choices, aerobics can help restore better glucose balance.

Strength training, such as lifting weights or using resistance equipment, also decreases body fat by raising the speed of how your innards create the energy your body needs to live. As in, metabolism.

The real gold, however, is increasing glucose uptake by the muscles and raising their ability to store glucose, rather than leaving it like a date gone bad in the blood vessels.

Here's how I see it in my mind, in somewhat less technical language. When I am exercising, my muscles are crying out - all using Jerry Seinfeld's voice - "Hey! We're dyin' here, what with all this work! We need sugar for energy. Give it up, blood cells."

This image is very appealing as I picture knocking over peaks and filling valleys on my glucose level charts. Even on the worst days, I find myself ready to show my muscle cells who is boss.

Fighting evil with misery - what sounds better?

After attending the three-day diabetes education series at Walla Walla General Hospital, I started off buying duo 10-pound weights, known as baby dumbbells. I also bought resistance bands, overcoming my pessimism little stretchy ovals could do any real good. Those suckers are surprisingly tough, I'm just going to admit now. They hurt, especially when they catch your hair on the rebound.

Then there is the elliptical trainer in the downstairs family room.

This is a very nice piece of equipment that a close friend bought for me a decade ago. I used it religiously at the beginning of the ensuing relationship between woman and machine. But as my knees deteriorated, I began looking for excuses not to visit. Before long, we simply looked at each other in passing, both yearning to be one with the other but the elliptical stayed rooted to its position while I skirted the issue.

As Facebook would put that relationship status, "It's complicated."

I'm happy to say we are once again seeing each other. I decided rather than kill my bone-on-bone knees with the cardio mountain-climbing modes, it makes better sense to stay on longer at the lower resistance levels. I may not get the heart rate up as fast for as long, but at least I'm moving with less impact on my poor joints.

Which brings me to another subject. So, when you see me walking with a limp on some days, it's because I do indeed have a limp. In addition to a leg injury a few years back, osteoarthristis in my knees is to blame. That condition can be attributed to a number of factors, including genetics and obesity. My bones are doing a one-on-one, with no cartilage to stand in their way.

But when I went to see an orthopedic surgeon about treatment options (disappointing news … only joint replacement will really work), not a word was mentioned about my weight. Of which there is some extra, in case you hadn't noticed.

Physicians! I am calling you out here. Stop being nice about America's bulge. We know we're fat, but if you don't bring it up, we think "Huh! Well, my doctor never said anything so it must not be that bad."

You need to look us in the eye - and I'm not talking about condescending to us, either - and say in your gentlest but firmest voice, "Reducing your weight is going to help with your (knee, foot, back, hip) pain. Let's talk about how that plan might look for you."

Do not let us get away with nodding and making promises. You know how we claim we want to be the driver of our health care? We are still in the passenger's seat when it comes to this difficult, delicate and so important topic.

And can I just say something? Since I started strengthening my legs, my knees and I are no longer talking about divorce every day. We don't agree on everything, but we are both happier in our situation. Will it ever be love? Dunno, but it's not hate at the moment.

My blood glucose numbers agree. With my little meter and tiny lancets, I can see my efforts are making a difference.

I make exercise bearable by lifting weights in front of TV shows I love. I scratch the dog's back when I'm down there for leg lifts. I scream at my (insert swear word of your choice) muscle cells to do their job and use that (once more with the swear word) blood sugar as it was intended.

When I go downstairs for aerobics, I take the laptop and feed my addiction to home improvement shows while going down the fitness road. Or watch science fiction with the kiddos, which we do in Dad's honor. Currently we are working through "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," 22 minutes at a time.

Every two weeks I increase the number of minutes and reps by two.

It hurts. That may never go away for me. But even when I am done with this series, the payoff will be stronger muscles. Which I like flexing just to see a whole different kind of bulge.

A girl could get used to that.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322.

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