The greatest wealth is health. – Virgil
To keep the body in good health is a duty, otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear. – Buddha
It’s that time of year again. November is National Diabetes Month. For the past few years, I’ve written blog posts in November about my own experience with Type II Diabetes. Last year, my blog post Easing Diabetes Symptoms with Yoga Therapy was published in the Northern Virginia Wellness Hub. In that article, I wrote about Dr. Dean Ornish’s Four Pillars for reversing heart disease: 1) Eat Well, 2) Move More, 3) Stress Less, 4) Love More. I concluded the article with some simple yoga based stress relieving practices that you might find beneficial.
A lot has happened in my life since I wrote that article. Like nothing else, my own life experience, of being a caregiver for a spouse with congestive heart failure over the past year, has strengthened my resolve to better understand the impact of lifestyle on our risk for chronic disease. Prior to my husband’s illness, I had already decided that to help myself, I would educate myself to help others. This way, I may be more accountable to myself in my own lifestyle decisions.
Since last year – I attended training at the University of Virginia to become a Certified Diabetes Prevention Lifestyle Coach . I also completed a Leader Certification in Chronic Disease Self-Management offered by Fairfax County, VA in conjunction with INOVA Elder link to be a facilitator in a free workshop which equips seniors with tools to self-manage their chronic disease. Finally, in October 2018, I became a Brain Longevity Specialist by completing a lifestyle management program developed by the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation.
The recommendations in all of these programs were similar. In fact, like the Ornish Program, the Alzheimer’s Prevention program also has Four Pillars – 1) Diet & Supplements, 2) Stress Management 3) Exercise: Mental & Physical, 4) Spiritual Fitness (Sound familiar?). Like Dean Ornish’s program, yoga is part of the Alzheimer’s Prevention program. While Dean Ornish drew from his medical research background and the tradition of Integral Yoga developed by Swami Satchidnanda, Dr. Dharma Singh Khalsa of the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Program drew from both his western medial expertise and the Kundalini yoga tradition as developed by Yogi Bhajan. As a recent graduate of a three year Yoga Therapy program, I resonated with creating lifestyle change by incorporating yoga philosophy and practice into my daily life.
As someone who spent much of her life as a closeted yogini, I realized that not everyone is going to be drawn to a yoga infused lifestyle the way that I am. The other two programs, developed by medical professionals, to assist senior Americans experiencing the consequences of a life long American lifestyle, was of interest to me as a lifestyle management student. The Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) is a year long program. The curriculum, developed by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has a primary aim of weight reduction as a means of reducing diabetes risk. According to CDC – The program involves:
Working with a trained coach to make realistic, lasting lifestyle changes.
- Discovering how to eat healthy and add more physical activity into your day.
- Finding out how to manage stress, stay motivated, and solve problems that can slow your progress.
- Getting support from people with similar goals and challenges.
Stanford University developed the curriculum for The Chronic Disease Self-Management Program offered by my county. This is a six week program is complemented by the book Living a Healthy Life with Chronic Conditions – Self -Management of Heart Disease, Arthritis, Diabetes, Depression, Asthma, Bronchitis, Emphysema and Other Physical and Mental Health Conditions (Loring, Holman, Sobel, etal). Like DPP, there is a strong problem solving component to the program. It offers some great advice for managing symptoms of a chronic disease as well as offering recommendations on diet, exercise, and stress management.
Ok, so not a big surprise. All programs recognize the importance of healthy habits for diet, exercise and stress management on creating a healthy lifestyle. Knowing this and doing this are two different things. How does one begin? In my case, it was a combination of serendipity and fear. Last November, I numbly wondered whether my husband would survive several heart surgeries and congestive heart failure.
During my husband’s two month hospital stay, I bounced back and forth between worry for his very survival and a prescient vision that his heart failure was in my future unless I, too, made changes. In times of stress, my habit was to adopt Ben and Jerry as my best friends. My sister-in-law and I experimented with rich chocolatey flavors to determine which would ease our anxiety and fear over my husband’s uncertain condition. Intellectually, I knew ice cream and other comfort food would not keep me healthy to care for my husband when he came home. Friends and family reminded me to grab my oxygen mask and take care of myself. My weight was at an all time high. I knew that my diet was a good place to start a lifestyle change, but I was having trouble getting motivated to make good choices.
As often happens in life, we are presented with possible solutions when we least expect it. In addition to hanging out with Ben and Jerry, I spent hours on my electronic devices reading emails and scrolling through different topics to distract me from my worry. One day, I received an email message about a determined 50 something Type 2 Diabetic who was determined to reverse his diabetic complications and thrive. My daily email had at least one promotional notice about this guy, Jon McMahon, who was on a mission to learn from leading experts how best to reduce his diabetic symptoms. Within a few months he created a documentary series interviewing leading experts on the best ways to reverse Type II Diabetes. I knew of many of these experts. In fact I had read their books. So, each night, while I waited for my husband’s health to improve, I watched every documentary as it aired.