When I was a 35-year-old man, I thought I was going to live forever, as so many of us do at that age. But that changed as I grew older and suddenly, here I am in my fifties. My knees hurt a little, my back aches, I put on some weight, and I became much more aware of my mortality after losing a dear friend to diabetes and heart disease, and witnessing a close relative having a stent in one of the arteries.
It was around this time that I decided to return to the South Asian Heart Center at El Camino Hospital where I had some tests done to check my cholesterol and other indicators of diabetes and heart disease. My first visit there was more than 10 years ago. At the time, my results were normal and within in the right ranges, so I thought I was good and didn’t have to worry about anything.
This time, when I returned for those same tests, my cholesterol was high, my A1C, which tests for type 2 diabetes, was creeping into the danger zone and that was a tipping point for me. I knew it was time for a lifestyle change. What I had been doing wasn’t working anymore, and I was ready to commit to doing something else, so I signed up for the Center’s STOP-D program.
STOP-D is a one-year program designed for people like me with pre-diabetes and want to make a positive change before developing full-blown diabetes. It incorporates mindful eating, exercise, sleep management, and meditation.
Over the first couple of months, an educator helped me understand the science, a coach helped me create a personalized lifestyle plan and stay on track, and a peer group provided additional encouragement. The program structure, which includes planning for success and concrete measures to track progress, helped me make the healthy changes I could not manage on my own. It was my personal coach, however, who made the biggest difference. She was my conscience, my wingman, fully invested in my success. She watched what I was doing and provided regular feedback, nudging me toward the right behaviors in a non-judgmental way.
I made changes to my diet that I stick to pretty closely. I lost about 17 pounds and more importantly, I have maintained my weight loss for the past year. I eat steel cut oatmeal, more eggs, whole grains, veggie burgers, salads and carrots or cucumbers with hummus for a snack. I have given up diet soda and visits to the vending machine altogether. I treat myself to some dark chocolate or an alcoholic drink occasionally. The great thing is I didn’t have to give up any of my favorite foods – I just learned healthier ways to enjoy them.
My coach and I also looked at my sleep schedule. Most nights I was lucky if I got five hours of sleep, which is pretty typical if you work in Silicon Valley. Now, I get more than six hours of sleep each night, which is a significant improvement. More importantly, the quality of sleep in terms of time in REM deep sleep has gone up and my resting heart rate is down eight or nine beats. I feel more rested when I wake up and have more energy throughout the day.
I also needed to retain my commitment to exercise. As a very active person, I have always loved the outdoors. I play tennis, scuba dive and am a serious hiker. In fact, this year, I am going to hike around Tibet, and I travel to two countries every year. My slogan when it comes to exercise is to “keep on your feet,” so I pace while I talk on the phone and work out regularly.
The biggest challenge for me was meditation. My coach gently insisted it be something I adopt and now that I am regularly doing one and a half meditations a day, I see myself more present when I am in meetings or with people.
For me, changing some key habits was a no brainer. I made an investment in myself and it is paying off. My critical markers are all within normal ranges now, I’m sleeping longer and better and I’ve kept the weight off. I am still working on some other areas, like taking the time to meditate, but changing my lifestyle wasn’t a sacrifice for me. It was a necessity and I have improved my odds of living longer as a result.
It’s easy to look healthy but not be healthy and even though I was still climbing mountains, my health wasn’t what I thought it was. I read every book I could on diet and had an intellectual understanding of what I needed to do, but I needed training and support to really make it work. Once I got the right tools, I knew how to fish for myself and the improvement has really been dramatic. I may not live forever, but I am going to make the most of life while I am here!