Food & Fitness After 50: How to Age Well While Living with a Chronic Disease

Meet Mike, a 64-year old artist who weighs the same as he did when he was in high school. How many of us can say that? Many of us over 50 live with chronic diseases, but Mike has been dealing with a serious disease since he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes 34 years ago, at the age of 30. Most of you have heard of diabetes, but did you know that only 5% of the people with diabetes have Type 1? In this form of diabetes, no insulin is produced so Mike must give himself multiple daily insulin shots to survive. Insulin acts like a key to allow glucose (sugar) to enter cells to produce energy. Without insulin, his blood sugar can reach dangerously

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Illustration by Mike

high levels, while his cells starve because they can’t use glucose. (Fun fact: Prior to 1982, insulin was produced from the pancreas of cows or pigs; it wasn’t a very efficient process. To get 8-ounces of insulin, 2 tons of pig pancreas had to be processed. In 1982, genetic engineering (or GMO, if you’ve heard of that term) produced the first purified insulin from bacteria for human use. The technique is called recombinant DNA and the genetically engineered insulin has greatly reduced allergic reactions from cow or pig insulin. It is a modern medical miracle for those with diabetes.) For those who want to know more about all types of diabetes, the American Diabetes Association is a great resource (American Diabetes Association).

The pillars of management for Type 1 diabetes are insulin, diet, and activity. So, how does Mike eat and stay active to manage diabetes?

“I eat as good as I can,” he says, but doesn’t follow the old school notion of a diabetes diet. He counts carbs to help him adjust his insulin dose to match food intake. He eats peanut butter toast most mornings, but is trying to add more protein to his breakfast. He keeps his snacks simple and healthy; a small apple, pear, or handful of raisins and nuts. He has learned that portion size is key to managing his blood sugar levels.  As for meals, he “can make a whole meal out of a steamed bunch of broccoli.” He enjoys a couple of beers most days, with his favorite food, peanuts. He doesn’t eat a lot of meat, but gets protein from nuts, beans, rice, and fish, especially sardines (a good source of omega-3-fats). “I want to eat as healthy as I can to manage my blood sugar and avoid the complications of diabetes. I want to be around for a long time so I can hang out with my 4-year old grandson and watch him grow.”

Mike doesn’t belong to a gym or “exercise” in the way many of us do; he gets his exercise by walking and biking because he doesn’t own a car. “Biking to the grocery store is great exercise because I carry the groceries home in my backpack; I’m not tempted to buy things I don’t really need.” He also sees house and yard work as exercise. “Scrubbing floors and using an old-fashioned push mower to cut the grass” is seen, not as a chore, but as exercise.

Mike’s goal is simple: “feel good, not gross.” I’d say he is meeting his goal!

Chris Rosenbloom and Bob Murray’s new book, Food & Fitness After 50, is available for pre-order through Amazon (preorder link).