I'm lowering my risk ... you can too!

Kate Long
About three times a week, Angela Gould, 34, pushes her two children over the South Side bridge, up the steep Carriage Trail and back to the East End of Charleston. Gould works at home by computer for a North Carolina firm. "I try to find ways to stay active and keep these guys with me," she said. Her family has a history of diabetes and heart disease, "so I want to lower my risk and be around for a long time." Tip: Exercise first thing in the morning. Get it out of the way.
Gina Wood, 40, Fairplain. I'm lowering my baby's risk by breastfeeding him. Breast milk reduces his lifelong risk of developing diabetes, along with his risk of many childhood illnesses. Tip: Don't give up, even if it doesn't go smoothly at first. You're giving your baby something that will protect him the rest of his life.
P.J. Sullivan, 75, Charleston. I'm retired from the railroad. Every day, I go out walking by the river. It keeps me in good health. Some days it's beautiful and foggy. You see a lot of wonderful little things. I walk to the Elk River, then walk back down to the Capitol. Tip: You can do it anytime. It doesn't cost you a thing. Just pick up your feet and walk, walk, walk!
Steve Moses (third from left), 57, Charleston, with his two daughters, Meghan Deal (right) and Lauren Gordon and Lauren's husband, Will Gordon. Exercising as a family is great. It's about sound mind, sound body. It keeps you happy and provides stress-relief. Tip: If you know you're going to eat a big meal, go running and burn off some calories. It works.
Cathy Capps-Amburgey, 50, Clendenin. My mother has Alzheimer's and is diabetic, and I've been reading all kinds of things about the importance of exercise in preventing both those diseases and others. So now I even teach fitness classes. Tip: Find something you enjoy, that you will stick with, whatever it is. It doesn't have to be in a gym or a class.
Helen Basham, Dunbar. I'm 83, and that's a time of life when you can get stiff all over. Exercise makes it possible for me to do so much more, little daily stuff that lets me manage better from day to day. I can get in and out of my car now, for instance. So you might say exercise is a lifeline for me. Tip: Get up off the couch.
Jessica Harper, Charleston. I have a bad family history of heart disease and diabetes, and I'm not waiting for it to happen to me. I exercise faithfully. I do water aerobics, ride an exercise bike and walk in my neighborhood. Tip: Join a class. It's fun. You'll laugh a lot, and that's good for you, too.
Mary Clement, 63, Charleston. I have high blood pressure, and sugar runs in my family, so I am very interested in keeping my stress level down. Exercise lowers stress. I go to Zumba three times a week because I know it's helping me. Tip: Never stop exercising. If you let it go for years, it's harder to start back up.
Judy Price, Charleston, paralegal. My cholesterol was dangerous, so I lowered it significantly by exercising. I love to park at the top of the Carriage Trail, walk down, across the South Side Bridge, then all the way to the 35th Street Bridge and back again. The river clears my mind and makes me think. Tip: Begin with one step. Don't stop to think about it. Do it today.
Ryan Harlow, 20, Charleston. I took 50 pounds off in a year, the only way there is: diet and exercise. I go for 20-mile bike rides at night and eat a lot of Morning Star products and Heinz 35-calorie bread. I pay attention to what I put into my body. Tip: Set a goal and stick to it.
Lynn Hill, 35, Chesapeake. When I was 25, I weighed 409 pounds, at risk of everything. I went from barely being able to walk a block to taking aerobics classes and running. For the past two years, I have been a licensed Zumba instructor, teaching kids, ages 4 to 12 years, so that they get an early start on moving! I am happier and healthier every day! Tip: Be patient and persistent.
David Rowe, 50, Charleston. I have spasticity, and riding a bike helps keeps me flexible and gets me where I need to go. Riding my bike adds to my sense of independence and helps me burn calories, which is no little thing. Tip: It's more important to be flexible than to be bulky like the Incredible Hulk.
Ellen Golden, 57, South Charleston. I lost almost 50 pounds with a lot of exercise. And I relearned how to eat. Relearning how to eat means going back to basics, to simply prepared lean meats and lots of veggies. Tip: Put healthy food into your body. Make it a priority. It's a healing process.
Jack Hickock, 71, Charleston. Exercise really helps my arthritis. When I was driving, I used to have to turn my whole body to look sideways. I'm much more flexible, and I don't have to go to the chiropractor every two months anymore. Tip: You have much less stress when you're more flexible. Stretch and keep yourself from getting stiff.
Denise Giardina, 60, Charleston. After I had a stroke, I started swimming to lower my risk of having another stroke. I found out I love it. I bet I've swum to Morgantown and back since I started. Tip: Evaluate yourself and find an exercise that fits you, that you want to keep doing. If one thing doesn't work, try another.
Danny Jones, 61, mayor of Charleston. If I slack off, I'll gain back the weight I lost. I do six miles on my treadmill many days, and swim a half mile a day. I eat too much, so I balance it by burning calories Tip: Know how many calories you take in and burn. And do "push backs" -- push back from that table. That can be a lot harder than pushups.
Gene Harper, 43, Cross Lanes. I quit smoking. I have a new granddaughter, born in June. It hit me that I want to be here to see her grow up, get married and have children of her own, and if I kept smoking, there is less chance that will happen. Tip: At first, cut back to the evening. No smoke breaks. Then give it up completely.
Barbara Thomas, 70, Charleston. I'm not drinking sodas anymore. I'm drinking a lot of water. And I go to exercise class at Curves three times a week. It's paying off. I've brought my blood pressure down quite a bit. Tip: Don't feel like you have to fill up that empty spot on your plate just because it's there.
Becky Funk, Sissonville. I do payroll for an accounting firm, so I sit all day. That can run your blood pressure up. Exercise keeps it down. I've been exercising 10 years, for prevention, ever since my blood pressure went up. Tip: Don't eat late at night. Your body can't effectively burn off those calories while you sleep.
Carl Birley, 66, Madison. I go out walking every day I can, I get checked regularly, and do what my doctor tells me to do. So far, so good. I've been active all my life, and so far, it's paying off. Tip: Get out of the house and do something.
Amy Atkins, Charleston. My blood pressure is low because I keep it that way intentionally. I have two kids, and I want to be there for them, and I want them to have the same habits. Tip: Get the kids up off the couch, get them outside, and do something. Make it a family thing!
Ann Ross, Charleston, water aerobics instructor, YWCA. I have osteoarthritis. If I didn't do this, I wouldn't be able to move. So I'm a missionary on this. Tip: A body in motion stays in motion. If you don't keep moving, there will come a day when you can't do what you enjoy doing.
Barbara Bayes, 62, Alum Creek. Living in the country, I have lots of things to do to keep up my place that naturally get me moving: cutting brush, mowing, stacking firewood. Most people used to get this kind of exercise naturally. Tip: Find ways in your day to walk. Park farther away. Take the steps.
Dannie Cunningham, 61, Belleville. I'm off my diabetes and heart medication, and all my numbers have come down. Most of my exercise I get climbing the hills and walking around in the woods. In hunting season, I'm out there all the time. Otherwise I'm getting ready for hunting season. Tip: Write down everything you eat. You'll be surprised at what you find!
Jeannie Flippin, 70, Charleston. After I went through a class on self-care, I take the stairs instead of the elevator, and I park at the far end of the parking lot. I am walking more. I cook greens with smoked turkey because it doesn't have the grease. And I feel good. Tip: You don't have to pile your plate up. Keep control of your portions.
Rick and Linda Bay, Princeton. Rick: Exercise and diet really helped our relationship and our quality of life. We came off our blood pressure medication. My cholesterol and triglycerides are normal now, no longer pre-diabetic. Linda: I was borderline diabetic, on three blood pressure pills. No more. Tip: If you reach a plateau, don't give up. Eat nutritiously. Don't just count points.
Laura Allen, 43, Charleston. My family has a bad history of hypertension, so when my blood pressure numbers shot up to 150 over 100, it was a wakeup call. I went to the Y, got on the machines, threw sticks with the dog. I brought it down 20 points in six weeks. Tip: Exercise intentionally, not randomly.
Margaret Pinson, 61, Williamson. I'm diabetic, and I lost more than 100 pounds in the past year, by pushing away from the table, a lot of walking, and watching everything that goes in my mouth. It was, "OK, I've got to do it!" I want to be able to walk in any store and find something to wear and not have to head for the plus department. Tip: Just do it. I get more energy daily.
Frank Crabtree, 63, Charleston, ACLU director. I have so many bad habits, I'd probably be dead if I didn't exercise. High cholesterol was my wakeup call. My family has a history of heart disease and, like everyone else, I want to live forever, so I exercise. Tip: Exercise isn't something just for the holidays. It's something for the whole year.
Nora Lantz, Clay. I'm a claims adjuster, medical malpractice, so I sit a lot. Exercise has lowered my cholesterol and kept it low. Even though I'm thin, my doctor told me it was either exercise or go on medicine. My cholesterol's been normal for three years, and I exercise now because I enjoy it. Tip: You're never too old to start exercising.
Ed Weiss, 66, Charleston. I want to enjoy my retirement from the federal public defender's office, so I keep my risk low by staying fit. It's working. I even ski and mountain bike, so I'm probably raising my risk that way, but I'm enjoying life. Tip: Make it part of your day, no matter how busy you are.
John McCorkle, Charleston. I've been exercising regularly for a long time. Spinning class at the Y helps me build aerobic capacity, and that helps me enjoy life even more. And that's what it's about: enjoying life. Tip: Quit eating bread and potatoes. You'll be surprised what happens.
Nancy Dunlap, 39, South Charleston. I'm a Weight Watchers instructor. I lost 62 pounds myself and have kept it off for seven years. You can keep it off. I exercise an hour each day and eat reasonable portions. Tip: Think of it as lifestyle change, not as a diet. If you think of it as a diet, you'll go back to your old ways when you reach your goal. Don't do that.
Carter Zerbe, Charleston. I want to stay in shape for hiking and enjoying the out of doors as long as I can. So I eat less cheese and other fatty foods, take three-mile walks four or five days a week and go to spinning class a couple of days a week. Tip: Maintain self-discipline. It works!
Tara Martin, Charleston. Both my grandfathers died of heart attack. My father had a heart attack. It's not going to happen to me. So far, I'm healthy. That's why I exercise. Not to mention that it makes me feel good. Tip: Start off easy with something you enjoy. Don't start with something that's too hard for you.
Sam Hickman, 59, Charleston. A stressful event, namely the Legislature, took 40 pounds off me last spring. I don't recommend that approach to weight loss, but I have managed to keep it off by exercising 20 minutes three times a week and practicing yoga. Tip: If you fall off the wagon, get back on.
Amber Wells, 32, Yawkey. It was time to do it. I'm in my 30s, and I'm concerned about my health, and it's time to get the weight off. I know what problems weight can lead to. I've lost 37 pounds, and I feel so much better. It's a total difference. Tip: Weight Watchers is well worth it. It works.
Dreama Smith, Dunbar. We had a wellness event at work, and when I had my blood work done, the doctor said I was pre-diabetic, but I could avoid diabetes if I lost about 15 pounds. By working out and watching what I eat, I lost even more, and I'm no longer at risk. Tip: It helps to have a buddy who's depending on you to show up.
Sue Haga, 51, Big Chimney. I was not fit till my 30s, then I decided this is the way to a long, healthy life. I don't exercise alone well. I have to be in a group, so I started joining groups. Tip: There are lots of benefits to groups. Every close friend I have, I met in a fitness class. I met my husband there.
Deanie Blyskal, Winfield. I live way out in the country on a hillside in Putnam County, so I have lots of places to walk, and I try to walk almost every day when I can. I listen to the little sounds and let it calm my mind. Tip: Drink lots of water. Bring it with you. It increases the value of the exercise.
Claudette Hudson, Charleston, graphic artist. I do Pilates and PRX and a variety of things to keep my mental attitude positive. It really relieves stress. Tip: Just move! It doesn't have to be a program. Be good to your body and mind. Take the steps!
Wanda McClanahan, 70s, Poca. I have osteoporosis, and arthritis exercises really help me. In my last test, my bone density had increased 5 percent. That's good. I credit these arthritis exercises. Tip: Keep moving. Exercise. Keep active. You'll feel so much better.
Joan Prendergast, Princeton. My dad died of high blood pressure and diabetes, and I don't want that. I've lost weight and decreased my use of antidepressants. The endorphins from intense workouts really get your system going, and that's great for depression. Tip: Don't give up when you hit a plateau! Keep trying!
Chris Weiss-Daugherty, Charleston. I have arthritis, and I had to try a number of different kinds of exercise before I got to water aerobics. Dancing and hiking didn't work for me. Water helps my general state of mind and feels like it oils my joints. Tip: Keep trying different things till you find something that makes you feel good.
Sissy Roberts, Charleston. When I don't exercise, I get grumpy and miserable and hard to get along with. That's a great reason to exercise. It gives me the energy to get through the day. It doesn't have to be a class. You can just walk. Tip: Keep trying. If it wears you out the first time, the second time, the third time, keep trying.
Kristen Childress, Charleston, Bureau of Public Health. I have so much more energy when I exercise. I lost about 15 pounds after I joined the gym and I haven't gained it back. Don't let them tell you you can't keep it off. You can! You just have to keep active. Tip: Keep moving. Instead of driving somewhere, walk.
Betty and Doc Halstead, 80s, St. Albans. We joined a chronic disease management class at the Hansford Senior Center in St. Albans. Doc has serious diabetes, and we learned so much in that class, so many things that help us every day. Tip: You're never too old to make yourself more healthy.
Terry Brogan, Sissonville. I've lowered my cholesterol and blood pressure. With a family history of heart disease, I exercise on purpose. I do deep water aerobics and shallow water aerobics. It's a great stress reliever. Tip: Don't worry what you look like. Just come exercise!
Rosalie Earle, 62, Charleston. I took up yoga about 10 years ago because I am at risk for osteoporosis. It helps with balance, flexibility, strength and stress. Tip: Treat exercise like taking doctor-prescribed medicine or a college class. You can't skip it.
Rosa Pickel, 81, Charleston. I am a retired language professor, and I have diabetes. Diabetes affects each person differently, and I'm on a diet to gain weight. I'm in two exercise classes, and I take good care of myself, so I'm going strong. Tip: Get regular checkups. And if you're taking meds, take them when you're supposed to!
Click here for stories and tips from 55 other West Virginians See a related story here. CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Yes, West Virginia leads the nation in diabetes and heart disease, but -- as Karen Thaxton, wellness director for the city of Charleston, said -- "We don't have to stay there."
Want to get in shape in 2012? Lower that blood pressure or cholesterol? Have more energy every day? Chase away depression? Prevent heart problems and diabetes?Here are a bunch of your fellow West Virginians -- ages 6 months to 83 -- saying, "Go for it!""Exercise regularly and you lower your risk of heart attack, stroke, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, asthma, cancers -- all kinds of things you don't want," said Sam Zizzi, professor of sports and exercise psychology at West Virginia University.Even 30 minutes a day, research shows, lowers your risk. "It doesn't have to be in a gym. Walk, swim, climb the hill or stairs, anything that gets your heart rate up," he said."No matter how many of your relatives have type 2 diabetes, you can absolutely prevent it," agreed Gina Wood, manager of the state diabetes prevention program."Maybe we can bring West Virginia's bad numbers down, one person at a time," said Charleston novelist Denise Giardina, who started swimming after she had a stroke. "Make it happen, one by one, two by two."What does research say? Watch "23 and 1/2 hours: What is the single best thing we can do for our health?" This report was produced under a Dennis A. Hunt fellowship for health journalism, administered by the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and with help from the West Virginia University Extension Service.Reach Kate Long at katelong@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1798.In 2012, the Sunday Gazette-Mail and The Charleston Gazette will look closely at West Virginia's soaring chronic disease numbers. Why are they so high? Who's trying to bring them down? We'll visit programs, places and people and give you a chance to be part of the conversation. It's "The Shape We're In," in the Sunday Gazette-Mail and The Charleston Gazette. 
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