Living Columns & Blogs

People Centre’d on Diabetes: Keep moving with a step challenge

You may have read or heard that the obesity epidemic is slowing. The number of adults who are overweight or obese is still increasing, but more slowly than before, and the number of children affected has stabilized. The number of young children who are obese is decreasing, all of which means that the fight against obesity is having an impact, and — best of all — the youngest members of our families are doing the best. This certainly is great news, but should we be satisfied?

Obesity and its complications — most importantly diabetes and vascular disease — are still overwhelming our health care system as well as causing untold personal misery. Diabetes currently affects 1 in 5 people older than 65. For my generation it will be 1 in 4, and for 20- to 30-year-olds it could be 1 in 3 or worse.

Which means we all must keep striving to live healthier, as best as we can — something that I have been telling my patients for years. I have also been trying to live healthier because I have pre-diabetes and am close to having diabetes.

In fact, on World Diabetes Day (Nov. 14) in 2014, I challenged myself to take 2.5 million steps by WDD 2015. How did it go? I made it, getting all my steps in by the evening of Nov. 13.

What did I learn? What research has shown us for years: Make changes slowly, don’t give up when there are setbacks and work with a supportive friend/partner.

Make changes slowly? By the end of the year I was parking my car at the very back of the parking lot, actually about a 10-minute walk away from my office. Ten minutes in the morning and 10 minutes at night is not much, but I had to do it in steps; for a few months I parked three minutes away, then six minutes and only starting in September, all the way at the back. Each change seemed like a big deal at first, but not once I got used to it. Plus there was a real bonus, I got to watch the seasons change — birds, trees, sky — I got to relax and unwind, to think.

There definitely were setbacks. I injured my arm in September and could not play racquetball. I hate running, but I took it up, supported by my best friend, my wife. No way could I have made it without her encouraging me — OK, at times even nagging but in a good way. I was ready to give up by Nov. 1, but she did not let me. Those last two weeks were actually fun with her help; we walked that 2.5 millionth step together on our lane.

Research is showing that not only is movement important, but also sitting is bad for health, very bad. So I added a standing desk ( and an alarm on my UP ( that reminds me to stand up if I sit for 30 minutes.

My goal for this next year? Three million steps (approximately 8,200 steps per day). I was well on my way in December, but now a stress fracture in my foot means I cannot walk more than is essential for at least two months. I know, though, that what I learned last year will see me through — more changes in the spring and summer, with support and maybe Sunday walks with my wife — Shingletown Gap, here we come.

You want to fight sitting disease too? Set a goal, find somebody to do it with and get going. And good luck!

Jan Ulbrecht is a board member of PCOD and the endocrinologist with Mount Nittany Physician Group. He occasionally Tweets about his step challenge @jantakeiton.