June 24, 2003
CONTACT: Carol Anderson

Walk, Run or Swim, But Get Moving Toward Good Diabetic Health

YPSILANTI – Everyone knows it’s the thing to do, but eating healthy takes effort and exercise can be boring. Without motivation, people rarely do something simply because it’s good for them. But when the subject is exercise, people are even more reluctant to change.

But change is exactly what Eastern Michigan University’s Shel Levine wants people to do. As assistant professor of clinical exercise physiology and coordinator of the exercise science program, he knows the benefits of exercising and encourages individuals, especially diabetics, to find their personal motivation to become active.

Levine talks to groups about exercise and stresses the benefits for diabetics in reducing the risk of heart disease.

A few years ago, a diabetic gave Levine the “key” to people starting an exercise program and sticking with it.

Following one of his lectures, Levine had an audience member come to him for advice. From the attendee’s diary of vital personal statistics, Levine discovered the individual was a diabetic who, a year earlier, had been overweight, inactive, had high sugar levels and was taking a lot of insulin for his weight.

Within a year, the man had lost 100 pounds and drastically reduced his 240-250 blood sugar levels to 130-140. In addition, he was off insulin and was taking oral medication.

“This (going from insulin to pills) usually doesn’t ever happen,” said Levine, who asked the audience member what he did to get those results.

The individual said he started walking 10 minutes a day on a treadmill and currently was doing 75 minutes daily. The man was 72 years old!

“’Why did you so radically turn your life around at 72?’” Levine asked. “The man replied, ‘My grandkids are having kids and I want to see them.’”
An external goal of rewarding oneself with clothes or material things won’t sustain a long-term exercise routine for most people, he said. It’s internal motivation that people need.

“Diabetes management is a balancing act,” said Levine, who defines diabetes as the inability for individuals to eliminate glucose from their bloodstream.

There are two types of diabetes. Type 1, previously called juvenile diabetes, develops when the pancreas doesn’t produce insulin, he said. With type 2, formerly known as adult onset diabetes, the body produces insulin, but can’t maintain adequate blood sugar levels.

“Exercise will get the blood sugar under control,” said Levine.

Each diabetic must balance medication, diet and exercise to properly manage glucose in their bloodstream, said Levine. Medication is either insulin or oral hypoglycemic agents (pills). Diet is basically eliminating simple carbohydrates such as candy and pop, and controlling complex carbohydrates. Exercise is aerobic and includes walking, running, swimming, biking or stair climbing.

This balancing act becomes even more important when risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking or inactivity enter the picture, he said. Without any additional risk factors, diabetics are at a slightly higher risk for heart disease than those without diabetes.

He cites the Framingham Heart Study that states one risk factor increases a diabetic’s chances of heart disease by two times; two risk factors, eight times; and three risk factors, 11.2 times.

“Men’s Fitness” magazine (January 2002) named Detroit the third fattest city in the United States. The magazine evaluated the 50 largest U.S. cities using 16 categories, including sports participation, smoking, drinking, air and water quality, length of commute, availability of parks/open spaces and percentage of overweight/sedentary residents.

Even among people with the highest risk of developing obesity-related health problems, such as diabetes, only 37 percent change their eating habits to lose weight, reports a 1994 poll by the former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop.

Before coming to EMU in 1999, Levine spent 14 years in cardiovascular rehabilitation as a clinical exercise physiologist at Botsford General Hospital in Farmington Hills and the Medical College of Ohio. He is certified by the American College of Sports Medicine as an exercise specialist and has a master’s degree in exercise physiology. He recommends that people check with their doctor before starting an exercise program.

For information on upcoming lectures, contact Levine at 734.487.7120, ext. 2713.

Eastern Michigan University is a public comprehensive, metropolitan university that offers programs in the arts, sciences and professions. EMU prepares students with the intellectual skills and practical experiences to succeed in their careers and lives, and to be better citizens.