You Only Need to Exercise on Days that You Eat

My Journey in Overcoming Diabetes
By John Blackwell
John Blackwell

John Blackwell is a TVA retiree in Muscle Shoals. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Muscle Shoals TVA Retirees Association. In addition, he volunteers with BVI, conducting water safety classes for area school children.

My story about beating diabetes began in the fall of 2011.  That was when I found myself eating more desserts and other sugary and fatty items than I did normally.

For example, coming home from church services and eating a bowl of ice cream had become common.  My wife could not keep homemade cookies for the grandchildren, because I would eat six at a time.

Of course, there were a lot of days during the fall and winter that I could not go outside, but when I could, I had continued to be active, doing yard work and other physical chores.

I had restarted my home exercise program a time or two, but it never lasted. I noticed my pants were getting a little tight, but the spandex waistband and extra-large shirts hid most of it.

I had missed my six-month cardiologist appointment in the fall of 2011. However, I kept my appointment with my general practitioner in April of 2012.

After a blood-pressure measurement and a blood test, the doctor found my blood pressure a little elevated.  But my doctor got my attention when he told me my blood test showed I was a diabetic and had to start taking a diabetic drug.

No!!!!  Not me!  I did not want to be a diabetic.  And, like most folks, I do not like taking drugs and did not want to start another one.

Yet, deep down, I was not too surprised, based on my bad eating habits and lack of exercise over the previous six months or more.  I asked what I could do to get off the new medication.  My doctor said he wanted me to get down to 200 pounds (very near my weight in high school) from 245.

I went to see my cardiologist, whom I had known for a long time, for a second opinion. He began by saying he could not believe I was diabetic, as active as I was.  However, after reviewing my blood work, he agreed I was diabetic.

I told him I had started taking the medication and did not like the side-effects.  He said no one does.  I asked what I could do about it.  He recommended exercise and a 1,800-calorie-a-day diet, being very careful about carbohydrates.

At that point, I was 6’ 2” and 71 years old, and my waist stuck out farther than my chest. The cardiologist wanted me to reduce my waist size by eight inches — no weightloss goal, only waist-management.

I began my battle with diabetes on May 19, 2012, by going to the gym for an hour of exercise under the guidance of a certified trainer and began the 1,800-calorie diet.  As my trainer and I approached the end of the first week, I asked about a day off from exercising. His response was that “You need to exercise only on the days you eat!”

It didn’t take me too long to think through that statement.  As much as I enjoy eating and did not want to undertake fasting, this meant exercising every day.

I began my exercise program using light weights and my own body weight and not trying to show out for my trainer or other folks.  It is very easy to get hurt by overextending yourself.  By the end of August, I had lost weight.

My trainer suggested I needed to set a goal of having my waistline measure 10 inches less than my chest.  By that time, my waist was less than my chest by six inches.

I learned from my trainer, who has been exercising for years, that several things must be done to have an effective exercise program.  More important than your exercise routine is to have an exercise buddy — someone who will be there every day to motivate you to do more.

As the summer progressed, my trainer would exercise a different part of the body each day.  For example, on Day 1 we would do arms, on Day 2 we would do legs, and on Day 3 shoulders. Then, after about three or four weeks, we would start a different routine.

My trainer also added a class of Pilates every other weekend, after an hour of our regular exercise.  He was surprised how much muscle I was adding using light weights, at my age.

My trainer said it was necessary to change routines regularly to keep your muscles confused.  We used elements of the exercise programs “Insanity” and “The Beast.”

As the weeks went by, my weight began to drop off.  I met again with my doctor in the fall of 2012 and he recommended again that I have a weight goal of 200 pounds before he would even consider taking me off my diabetic drug.

Sometimes I would reach a weight plateau and have to take a hard look at not only what I was eating, but the amount.  I found I needed to eat more slowly and eat smaller portions and lots of fruits and vegetables and less meat and dairy.

Good nutrition is important with weight control.  My wife was a big help by serving my plate.  About time for the holidays, I was approaching 215 pounds. I met with my doctor in December, and he said while he was impressed with my daily exercise routine, my weight loss, and the improvements in my blood work, I needed to continue before he could make any adjustments in medication.

This past winter my trainer began a new exercise routine called “TABATA,” where you exercise for 20 seconds and rest for 10 seconds.  You do this eight times, performing the same exercise, for example, by doing push-ups or pull-ups.  By the end of the routine, I found myself exhausted.  We did this for six different exercises.

Each day ended with abs exercises for about 15 minutes. While every day we changed our exercise routine for the various muscle groups, we did abs exercises each day.

My doctor’s annual appointment was coming up in April.  I began to do two things that affected my weight.  First was to continue to watch what I ate, and then my trainer had me attend a class of “Crossfit” each Sunday afternoon — yes, after an hour of exercise that morning.

This meant nearly two hours of exercise each Sunday.  Here again, only elements of “Crossfit” that involved body weights or light weights were involved.

My weight was starting to drop still more, and the morning of my doctor’s appointment I weighed 200.8 pounds in my shorts on my home scales.  My doctor reviewed my blood work and said it was better than he had hoped, and he was impressed with my weight loss since my December visit.  He said I could drop my diabetic medication, but he wanted to see me again in six months.

I was very happy to no longer be a diabetic and not having to take diabetic medication.  My trainer was very happy to hear the news, as well.  While I am still on blood-pressure medication, I am working to continue my exercise program and diet, and perhaps with time this medication may be reduced or eliminated.

By the way, my stomach is eight inches less than my chest — two inches to go!

My doctor told me I was in shape like only about 5 percent of the folks in my age group. While I realize most folks will choose not to do this same exercise program and diet, perhaps someone will be motivated to do it.  I proved it can be done in 11 months of exercising and diet.

I was 72 in August. My family and friends have been astounded at how I look. I am in the best shape of my life. My granddaughter called me a “hottie”!

Life is good.

*  *  *

Acknowledgement — I was inspired to write this article because my youngest brother, David, showed me the importance of being in good physical shape. I used to tell him about how much physical work I was doing, such as cutting grass and using a chainsaw, and how I felt I was in good shape. He would say, “But John, that is not aerobic exercising.” I really did not know what that aerobic exercise meant.

At that time David was an avid bicyclist, often traveling from 60 to 100 miles a day, while weighing 320 pounds. And that’s why, when David was diagnosed with esophagus and stomach cancer, his doctor told him, “David, you are in the best shape of any of my obese patients.”

David is continuing to struggle with cancer well past the times of other folks who have been overcome by this cruel disease. And it is my opinion that he has had so much success because he is in good shape

Update December 2014  

In the time since I wrote the article above, I have continued to exercise 7 days a week and watch carefully what I eat. As a result, my blood tests are continuing to show great improvements. My strength and stamina have increased to where I can enjoy so much more in life.

After exercising with the same trainer and partner for nearly 29 months, we have become strong supporters of each other in our quest for better health.  My trainer and exercise partner is Dr. Jerry B. Williams.  Dr. Williams is a cardiologist who has practiced in the Shoals area for nearly three decades. He has written books on exercise and diet and is a popular speaker about fitness and nutrition.

In the past several months, Dr. Williams and I have worked together to produce a book entitled “Waist Management- A Guide for Reversing Abdominal Obesity and Metabolic Syndrome.”

If you have made a commitment to live a healthy lifestyle, then you need to put this book on your reading list. Dr. Williams and I are providing this book at no cost and we are not profiting from its distribution. Our only reason for providing the book is to help people lead healthier life styles.

Realizing that taking control of your health and well-being is a personal journey, this book will help you understand the obstacles that one has to overcome.  The book addresses how obesity has overcome many of us in America, and how the foods we eat adversely affect us, what foods are good for us, and how to be more selective about foods, as well as some healthy recipes.

This book is a short read – less than 100 pages – and it’s free. You can view the book by going to   Printed copies will be available later.