Brothers Gary and Donald Embling believe regular walking, is one of the best ways to help control diabetes – and they’re urging others to follow in their footsteps – not just during Diabetes Awareness Week, but for good.
Retired farmers Gary, aged 70, and Donald, 76, from Wroughton, have been walking together daily ever since they were diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, which causes blood sugar levels to become too high and is becoming increasingly common.
Gary said: “In hindsight, I abused my body over many years and paid the price. I added heaps of sugar to everything – tea, cereal and even desserts, without realising the damage I was doing.
I’m lucky because my diabetes was caught early and I can manage the condition – but I would definitely do things differently if I had my time again and just hope more people now are aware of the dangers.”
Being overweight or obese and physical inactivity are among the main risk factors for developing Type 2 diabetes. Since diagnosis, Gary has shed three stone and transformed his diet.
Other risk factors include having a relative with the condition, being over 40 years of age and being of South Asian, African Caribbean or Middle Eastern origin.
Type 1 diabetes is more rare and the highest risk factor is genetic. About 6% of the Swindon adult population have a some form of diabetes, the majority being Type 2.
“I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything – it’s all about making the right choices and portion control. I look back and think what a fool I’ve been, but you don’t think about it at the time,” he said.
“I could easily eat several bags of crisps a day and took three or four spoons of sugar in a cuppa. Working on the land, you can burn it off, but it still does harm and when you stop working the effects are even worse.”
Gary discovered he had the condition, at the age of 52, when he suddenly felt extremely thirsty.
“I woke up one morning and kept drinking, but the thirst didn’t go away. I went to the doctor, who was pretty sure what it was and the test confirmed Type 2 diabetes. I take tablets every day, eat a balanced diet and take a lot more exercise, mainly walking for around a couple of hours a day, but we stop for a rest. I also do the gardening and housework. It seems to do the trick. Every time I go for a check-up, the green lights come on.”
Besides walking with Donald and the family chocolate Labrador Hartley, Gary enjoys a diet full of fresh vegetables grown in the garden.
He said: “I’ll have porridge or toast for breakfast, home-made soup or a salad for lunch and fish with vegetables for dinner. I’ve cut right down on carbohydrates and sugar, but can still have potatoes or fruit in smaller quantities. Processed food is completely out and I feel much better for it.”
Gary’s wife Lynda and his brother Donald were more recently diagnosed with the condition and they are both also managing it effectively.
Lynda, aged 67, said: “I’m the first one in the family to have diabetes, and have always been very active and eaten a healthy diet full of fresh fruit and veg, unlike my husband who used to have a lot of fried and sugary foods. We couldn’t figure out what triggered it but apparently the blood pressure tablets I take can increase your risk so I guess I’m the unlucky one.”
Donald’s diagnosis was also unexpected.
He said: “I went for a health check, thinking everything was fine, but my blood sugar levels were too high. I take tablets and the regular walking with Gary along with a better diet all works well and keeps it under control,” Donald said.
“Apart from the odd biscuit or cake, I stick to the same wholesome things and it’s still very tasty. You can’t beat walking every day out in the fresh air. 50 years working on a farm has taken its toll on my knees but I keep plodding on and feel pretty good.”
A quick and easy way of finding out whether you are at risk of developing diabetes is having a free NHS health check.
The NHS Health Check programme aims to help prevent heart disease, stroke, diabetes, kidney disease and certain types of dementia. Everyone between the ages of 40 and 74, who has not already been diagnosed with one of these conditions or have certain risk factors, will be invited (once every five years) to have a check to assess their risk and will be given support and advice to help them reduce or manage that risk.
The check can be a useful way to catch things and prompt action before they develop into something more serious. For example, Type 2 diabetes, if detected early, can initially be managed through diet and physical activity.
NHS Health Checks are offered through most GP practices in Swindon and they will invite you every five years to attend. NHS Health Checks are also available through SEQOL and through some pharmacies. To book your free NHS health check contact your GP, or SEQOL who can tell you which pharmacies and community setting provide NHS Health Checks, on 01793 465543