Living with diabetes
A retiree is determined to lower his blood sugar with a formula that gives him adequate exercise, a healthy diet and regular check-ups and medication.
BY: Eleanor Yap
Retiree Lou Phua believes in the 40-40-20 rule. The numbers are not his vital statistics but they represent his vital percentages – 40 percent exercise, another 40 percent medicine and 20 percent diet – that he needs to stick with to keep his blood sugar low. Phua’s doctor who he has been consulting with is Associate Professor Sum Chee Fang, who is director and senior consultant of Alexandra Hospital’s Diabetes Centre.
Exercise is key!
The first step to treatment is having regular exercise and Phua is no stranger to it. A national water skier in the 70s, he had to call it quits after he sustained an injury in the sport. That however did not stop him from exercising. He did his first half-triathlon in 2005 at the age of 56 and came in 11th in his age category. Some time after that, an ECG abnormality led to investigations, which uncovered partial blockage of his coronary arteries. He had to have three stents put in as he had blockage of 78 percent, all the way to 99 percent. “I could have collapsed during the triathlon,” said Phua, 60, matter-of-factly.
He continues hitting the gym after work for an hour, using the treadmill for cardio and weights for strength training. Also, thanks to his job as a “facilitator” (whereby he does odd jobs within the company), he gets additional exercise, walking 10km a day and shows off his red pedometer to see how serious he is about achieving his goal. “I walk a lot. My company actually pays me to exercise.” On the weekends, he cycles half a day on Saturdays and goes back to the gym on Sundays to do the treadmill and weights.
With exercise taken care of, the next is to watch what you put into your body. For Phua, he takes his oral medication daily. In addition, he is very careful with what he eats. His breakfast and dinner are usually taken at home, while he usually eats out at lunch.
Controlling the amount of carbohydrate foods is key, as it has the greatest impact on the glucose level, yet we can’t avoid carbohydrate foods because they are essential for good health, and they are essential when exercising a lot. “I eat a moderate portion of carbohydrate foods such as rice and fruits. I choose healthier carbohydrate food choices such as wholegrain, for example, brown rice and wholemeal breads, and limit fattening carbohydrate foods such as fried noodles, fried rice and other fried foods,” Phua said.
“When I eat soup noodles, I will leave behind much of the gravy as I am aware it contains MSG, salt and sometimes rock sugar, which can affect my diabetes and blood pressure control. I also don’t put any added sugar into my drinks or foods, as sugar is empty calories and it contains concentrated amounts of carbohydrates and can raise the glucose level too high and quickly.” Phua stays away from regular carbonated drinks but occasionally may take a Coca-Cola Zero, Diet Coke or Pepsi. He also makes sure he eats lots of vegetables with his meal for fibre, minerals, vitamins, phytochemicals and antioxidants for good health, and he takes 1,500g of glucosamine daily.
Next, he keeps up with his regular check-ups. “Persistent checking is important as it tells you where your body stands and how it is working,” he explained. Besides the kidneys, long-term diabetes can also affect the eyes and feet. Diabetes also doubles a person’s risk of developing heart disease. Many of these complications are ‘silent’ and it is important for the patient to follow a schedule of check-ups to detect these complications early to facilitate successful management.
How it got started
Asked how he got his diabetes initially, Phua revealed it was hereditary, coming from his mother’s side. Also, it did not help that while he was working for AIA as a manager of an agency before he retired, he often times had to court possible clients and take them out to eat good food. Having paid the price then, today things are very different for him. He shared the need to have self-discipline – “It’s a ‘body over mind’ thing. Actions have to be done. Our body controls our mind and we control our body. If you cannot control our body, how can we control our mind?”
Phua’s determination to stick to his formula is indeed commendable. And he has found new ways to achieve his goals – “I sleep early usually around nine every night and wake up about 4am to walk my dog. That too adds to my 10,000 daily steps!”
** Special thanks to Associate Professor Sum Chee Fang and Lock Poh Leng, a dietitian from Alexandra Hospital, for vetting the article.
(PHOTOS provided by Lou Phua + Alexandra Hospital)
Diet key in treatment
Diabetes affects one out of 11 people between the ages of 18 and 69 in Singapore, according to an article in Today newspaper. A large majority of those suffering from diabetes do not recognise diet as key to their treatment, according to findings from the Diabetics Breakfast Survey, which was commissioned by Abbott Nutrition.
• Eighty-one percent of 404 diabetic patients polled said they rely on medication as the sole treatment of their condition, in spite recommendations by the Health Promotion Board and doctors saying diet should be the cornerstone of diabetes treatment.
• Although 90 percent believed in the importance of breakfast, many do not have adequate knowledge of what constitutes a healthy breakfast, and how it can help to control their blood sugar level throughout the day.