Best friends Deb Kelly and Dave Greenwood have spent much of their lives struggling with weight problems.
The pair both have diabetes, and at their heaviest had difficulty following even the lightest of exercise regimes.
Deb and Dave were keen to do something together to significantly improve their health and fitness levels and signed up for this year’s Bupa Great North Run.
When Deb put her name down for the event, she was wearing size 26 to 28 clothes and, in her own words, was “the most unfit person I knew”. Yet after spending months training for the historic half-marathon, the 51-year-old has dropped several clothes sizes and lost 2st 7lbs in weight.
Deb, an occupational health adviser with South Tyneside Council, said: “I used to walk up the stairs and get really breathless. Now I walk between six and eight miles twice a week, and eight or nine miles on a Sunday. I’ve lost 2st 7lbs and have dropped to a size 22. I feel fantastic and my diabetes is back under control.
“I’m 5ft 2ins and built like a barrel, but it just goes to show even if you are my size, you can still do exercise. Now I can dance around the house like a lunatic with my lovely granddaughter.” A key reason for Deb, of Highfield, Rowlands Gill, wanting to lose weight was to get her type-two diabetes under control and limit her risk of developing complications related to the condition.
Her mother also has diabetes and has had three heart attacks and a stroke.
“I’ve been battling with my weight since I was about 18. It’s always gone up and down, and five years ago I tried to lose weight and didn’t really succeed,” explained the mother-of-one. My grandfather died in his late 50s and my mum has suffered heart attacks and stroke, so I felt it was important to improve my health when I reached the age of 50.
“I have never taken medication for my diabetes, but I feel like I’m genetically predisposed to some of the problems associated with the condition and, the more weight I put on, the more at risk I was of developing medical issues such as heart problems.
“I feel so much better since I’ve lost the weight as I’ve more energy than what I had before because I’m much fitter.”
Deb, who has a son, Adam, 27, saw her weight increase over the years, and it affected her confidence with crowds of people she did not know.
“My weight gradually went up as I got married, had a child and got divorced, and I became bored and lonely,” she explained. “I had nothing better to do than eat because at the time I was stuck in the house as I’d no money to go out. Cheap foods tend to be higher in fat, and it became a vicious circle.”
Deb is keen to shed another 4st but knows that there is no quick fix and it will take time and effort to slim down to her target weight. However, she now walks up to 20 miles a week so is seeing her body shape become smaller and more toned.
She added: “I don’t like going to the gym but I do enjoy walking with a little bit of jogging. When I first started exercising it took ages to walk just one mile, and now I’m doing between five and six miles regularly a couple of times a week, with a longer walk at the weekend.”
Meanwhile, Dave, 38, a finance director, found out he had type-two diabetes through a routine blood test. His brother Philip was diagnosed with the condition in his mid-30s and now takes insulin to control his condition.
Staff from the Gateway to Health Service and Blaydon Leisure Centre, both in Gateshead, helped Dave work on improving his diet and encouraged him to exercise. He found he enjoyed it and started walking regularly with Deb and then got into running.
Dave has lost 1st 7lbs in weight, dropping from 20st at his heaviest to 18st 6lbs, and his waist size has reduced from 44in to 38in.
Dave, of Gateshead, said: “We started with a mile and built from there supporting each other every step of the way. Now I’ve got the running bug, which is hard to believe because if you’d said even two years ago that I would be doing the Great North Run, I would have laughed at you.
“I did want to run about two or three years before I started training for the Great North Run, but I never had the guts to get out there and do it.
“I started running with people that I knew and I really enjoyed it and things just carried on from there.”
When Dave was diagnosed with diabetes it was the kick-start that he needed to spur him on to losing weight, as he was worried that his health would be damaged by the condition.
Yet since he began to get in shape his blood sugar levels have reduced to within the range classed as normal, and that is without the help of any medication.
He said: “I was quite worried when I was told that I had diabetes, and it was what I needed to encourage me to get fitter and healthier. I have always had a sweet tooth and was a secret eater as I’d graze all the time.
“I used to see what was in fridge and then sit in front of the television.
“Gateway to Health helped re-educate me about what changes I needed to make to my diet and what are appropriate portion sizes. I now feel so much better.”
Having a close family member with diabetes, having a large waist and being overweight are all risk factors for developing type-two diabetes. Once it’s been diagnosed, maintaining a healthy weight is crucial for the management of blood glucose levels, which can keep the condition under control and reduce the risk of other serious health conditions.
Deb admits her Great North Run will be a gentle jog and Dave has promised to meet her at the 12-mile mark and support her for the final last mile.
Deb said. “Dave and I started together, so we are going to finish together too.
“When the weather has been miserable with it being cold, wet and windy, Dave and I have supported each other to get out and train, so I want us to finish the half-marathon alongside each other.”
The friends are doing the Bupa Great Run to raise money for Diabetes UK and help increase awareness of the condition. It is estimated that in the North East as many as 71,600 people have diabetes, with a further 10,000 undiagnosed with the condition. The pair hope to collectively raise £2,000 for the leading national charity, which is partner for the Bupa Great North Run Series.
Diabetes, both type one and type two, is a chronic condition that affects the body’s ability to process sugar or glucose.
If diabetes is not picked up upon, it can lead to a number of different health problems, including nerve damage, eye problems, kidney disease and amputation.
Diabetes UK’s Northern fundraising manager, Louise Simonian, said: “If it’s managed correctly, people with diabetes can live healthy, happy lives. The money Deb and Dave raise will go a long way in helping us to continue to support the 71,600 people in the North East region who have diabetes to help them avoid some of the serious complications of the condition, such as heart disease, stroke and amputation.
“Diabetes UK is delighted to yet again be the Bupa charity partner for the Bupa Great Run Series in 2014.
“Together we are working towards a future without diabetes.”
The Journal’s Great North Fitness Revolution is a scheme that is trying to tackle the region’s high percentage of overweight and unhealthy people in order to help curb medical problems such as type-two diabetes. The campaign encourages people to keep active through regular exercise and a good diet.