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Wake-up call

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Ronald Steele exorcises diabetes demon

By Greg Summers

Ron Steele believes that New Year’s resolutions to get into shape are a waste of time.

For the 45-year-old Steele, who has lost more than 100 pounds since 2004 in a life-long struggle against diabetes, the word diet means very little. 

“I did not go on a diet,” he said. “I made a lifestyle change. To me, you fail because you go an a diet. I made up my mind to make a lifetime commitment. That’s the only way you’re going to succeed.”

Steele can be counted among  those for whom the diagnosis of diabetes was a shock.

While there is a history of diabetes in the Steele family (an aunt and an older brother), Steele said he never expected to be numbered among the 24 million who suffer from it. But a bout of dizziness in April 2002 proved to be a wake-up call.

“I lost my breath and passed out,” he said. “If it had not been for a wall, I would’ve fallen, too.”

Steele said since his brother underwent open heart surgery at the age of 13, he figured he was having a heart attack.

But a blood glucose test showed otherwise. Steele’s glucose level was 385. The normal level lies between 70 and 150. Blood glucose is the primary energy source for humans and animals.

“After the diagnosis, I was relieved,” he said. “But I knew I had to make a change.”

Steele said he managed to shed  about 30 pounds in about 30 months, but readily admits that he didn’t give his condition much thought until the fall of 2004.

Then, the 2006 death of his mother, the late Lela Steele, prompted Steele to get serious about getting his diabetes under control.

A caregiver for Disability and Special Needs, he said caring for his ailing mother had been a mental drain on the entire Steele family.

“Nothing was the same anymore,” he said.

After his mother’s death, Steele said a health and fitness article on the University of South Carolina at Lancaster’s Diabetic Education services and Gregory Health and Wellness Center prompted him to check into their services and programs.

“They were a good source of educational materials on everything I needed to know,” he said. “I was able to get the support I needed and a glucose meter, too.

“You have to get a good support system going and I’ve also done my share of praying,” Steele said. “I needed God’s help in it, too.”

Managing wellness          

One of the keys for diabetics to improve glucose levels is exercise.

Studies have shown that regular exercise should be part of a diabetic treatment program.

During exercise, muscles burn sugar for energy, lowering blood sugar levels, with more strenuous work-outs producing longer-lasting results.

Kent Deese, fitness program coordinator at USCL, said  the key is designing an exercise program that works for diabetics.

Deese said USCL prescribes to American College of Sports Medicine guidelines.

“It’s a little bit different for diabetics and is reduced as far as days of the week and intensity,” Deese said. “But it’s still based on blood sugar and how much they burn.”   

For Steele, the combination of proper support, eating healthy and exercising has paid off. His weight has dropped from about 325 pounds in 2001 to 215 pounds. Steele’s latest blood work shows a blood glucose level of 100 and his blood cholesterol levels are also in check. 

Steele said he tries to work out at three times a week, but “two is closer to it.”

From parking at the rear of the supermarket parking lots to walking six miles near his Buford community home, Steele said he now tries to incorporate exercise into every component of his life.

“It sounds a little crazy, but I crave exercise and I can tell when I haven’t been exercising like I need to be,” Steele said.

Deese said the little lifestyle changes that Steele has taken can reap big dividends.

“Taking the steps instead of the elevator is physical activity,” Deese said. “It’s good that Ron has taken the opportunity to do those little things.”

Steele’s diet has changed dramatically, too. While he has managed to all but eliminate fried foods and sweets from his diet, the craving to eat them still remains. He said pizza is now eaten “one slice at a time instead of one pizza at a time.” Fried chicken and fried fish are no longer the norm.  

“I’ve always worked second-shift jobs and there are some nights now when I have the urge to tear down the kitchen and fry up a steak and some potatoes for a big meal,” he said. “I say to myself, ‘God I’d love to have that right now,’ but I just don’t give in.”

Steele said that mind-set is what makes the difference. 

“If you don’t make up your mind that you’re going to do it, then you won’t do it,” he said. “I made up my mind to continue to do what I’m doing every day. It hasn’t been easy to change, but that’s the only way to have success.”

A growing epidemic

– If present trends continue, one in three children born in the United States will develop diabetes in their lifetime.

– The cost of diagnosed diabetes in this country has now risen to $174 billion and one in five health care dollars is spent on someone diagnosed with diabetes.

– Since 1987, the death rate due to diabetes has increased by 45 percent and people with diabetes are spending nearly three times the cost on health care than people without diabetes.

– American Diabetes Association

Exercising with diabetes

– Start slowly – When exercising, start slowly and work your way up to 30 minutes of moderate-intense exercise most days of the week. Don’t forget to take care of yourself when exercising.

– Monitor your blood sugar – It’s a good idea to check your blood glucose level before, during and after exercising. This is especially true if you take insulin or use medications that can cause hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Carry glucose tablets or hard candy in case your blood sugar drops too low or you get shaky, nervous or confused.

– Pay close attention to your feet – Wear smooth-fitting socks and comfortable athletic shoes. Check your feet before and after exercising for potential problems, including cuts and blisters.

– Drink up – Drink plenty of fluids while exercising, especially when it’s hot. Dehydration can increase blood sugar. If you work out for more than 60 minutes, drink beverages with carbohydrates rather than plain water.

– Share information – Make sure that others know that you are diabetic or wear a diabetes information bracelet or shoe tag in case of an emergency.

– Know when to say when – If you experience any signs of overexertion – severe shortness of breath, dizziness, fainting, nausea, chest pain, heart palpitations or jaw or arm pain – stop exercising. If you don’t feel better within 15 minutes of stopping, seek immediate medical help.

– The Mayo Clinic