50 Secrets of the Longest Living People with Diabetes


By Sheri R. Colberg, PhD

By Steven V. Edelman, MD

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The latest scientific research confirms that you can live well and long with diabetes without suffering from its more devastating health complications. Whether you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, you have the ability to improve the quality and length of your life through physical activity, a positive mental outlook, and certain diabetes tools and medications. Now, the longest living people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes share the secrets that have helped them achieve longevity and wellness.

From interviews with more than fifty people who have thrived with the condition for as many as 84 years, diabetes authorities Drs. Colberg and Edelman distill their lifelong habits into fifty user-friendly, easy-to-adopt secrets. Featuring profiles of ten people who have each lived an average of 65 years with diabetes and practical advice for incorporating each secret into your daily life, this invaluable resource will inform, inspire, and motivate you to live well—and fully—to 90 and beyond.

Find out what some of the secrets are:

• Live first and be diabetic second
• Know your numbers and assume nothing
• Have kids if you want to
• Erase your mistakes with exercise

No matter what type of diabetes you have, you control the ability to escape serious complications (or control the ones you may have) and add years, if not decades, to your life.



Good control is in your hands.

Since 1999, Marlowe & Company has established itself as the nation’s leading independent publisher of books on diabetes. Now, the Marlowe Diabetes Library, launched in 2007, comprises an ever-expanding list of books on how to thrive while living with diabetes or prediabetes. Authors include world-renowned authorities on diabetes and the glycemic index, medical doctors and research scientists, certified diabetes educators, registered dietitians and other professional clinicians, as well as individuals living and thriving with prediabetes, type 1 diabetes, or type 2 diabetes. See page 293 for the complete list of Marlowe Diabetes Library titles.





Praise for 50 Secrets of the Longest Living People with Diabetes

“Inspirational—and practical. A must read that can make a
difference in your life.”
—Richard N. Podell, M.D., clinical professor,
UMDNJ–Robert Wood Johnson Medical School

50 Secrets of the Longest Living People with Diabetes has our
hearty recommendation for the inspiration it brings to everyone
who desires a long and healthy life.”
—John Walsh, P.A., C.D.E., and Ruth Roberts, M.A.,
authors of Pumping Insulin (4th edition), other diabetes books,
and www.diabetesnet.com

“The advice that Sheri Colberg and Steven Edelman offer is
excellent and will help everyone living with diabetes to live a
better, healthier, and longer life . . . Much of their guidance
would be well heeded by everyone, not just people with
—Jeff Hitchcock, Children with Diabetes

“Information about the inspiring individuals with diabetes
was woven in with the fifty great secrets in a very entertaining
and educational way. I endorse 50 Secrets of the Longest Living
People with Diabetes
to teach, train, and coach those of us
with diabetes. ”
—Paula Harper, R.N., C.D.E., founder and president,
Diabetes Exercise & Sports Association

“Most books tell you what the authors think you should be doing
about your diabetes. 50 Secrets of the World’s Longest Living People
with Diabetes
tells you what long-lived people with diabetes
actually are doing about their diabetes . . . Their stories are
inspiring as well as instructive.”
—Gretchen Becker, author,
The First Year®—Type 2 Diabetes and Prediabetes

“While at the University of Michigan we developed the notion
of ‘patient empowerment’ and ‘taking control,’ which Sheri
Colberg and Steven Edeman have captured in a most elegant
manner with case histories of people who have thrived for many
years despite having diabetes. There is no greater eloquence
than that expressed by patients themselves. ”
—Aaron Vinik, M.D., Ph.D., director,
Strelitz Diabetes Research Center

“Camaraderie is truly what soothes the diabetic breast. As I’m
reading read through this book, my neck is getting tired from
the constant nodding and saying ‘Yes! Yes! This is what it’s all
about!’ Who knows more about living successfully with diabetes
than the people who have done it for so many years. After I’ve
soaked up every word, I might be willing to share it with my
patients. ”
—Gary Scheiner, C.D.E., author, Think Like a Pancreas and
The Ultimate Guide to Accurate Carb Counting

50 Secrets of the Longest Living People with Diabetes is full of
inspiring examples. Sheri Colberg’s early belief that she would
suffer ‘inevitable’ consequences of her diabetes struck a
particularly strong chord with me . . . Indeed, diabetes is treatable and
is more and more treatable all the time, while many other
chronic diseases are not. This is another of the excellent and
positive points that these two authors make throughout this
important book. ”
—David Mendosa, coauthor, The New Glucose Revolution
What Makes My Blood Glucose Go Up . . . and Down?
and author, Losing Weight with Your Diabetes Medication

“Encouraging, informative, and easy to read . . . this is my kind
of diabetes book! If nothing else, you’ll be delighted to discover
how many of the secrets you’ve already mastered. ”
—Amy Tenderich, journalist/blogger, www.diabetesmine.com,
and coauthor, Know Your Numbers, Outlive Your Diabetes

50 Secrets of the Longest Living People with Diabetes is the
Can-Do-est diabetes book you’ll ever read.
Whatever your age, whatever your current physical and mental health, these vivid
experiences of others who’ve successfully climbed the Diabetes
Mountain will inspire you to get on top of the world yourself. ”
—June Biermann and Barbara Toohey, authors,
The Diabetic’s Total Health and Happiness Book


SHERI R. COLBERG, PHD, is an exercise physiologist and associate professor of exercise science at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. Having earned a doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley, she specializes in research in diabetes and exercise. She continues to conduct extensive clinical research on diabetes and exercise, with funding from the American Diabetes Association and others. She has also authored myriad articles on exercise and diabetes, as well as three books: The Diabetic Athlete, Diabetes-Free Kids, and The 7 Step Diabetes Fitness Plan.

Dr. Colberg has almost 40 years of personal experience with type 1 diabetes. Diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 4 in 1968 in what she refers to as the “dark ages” of diabetes care (pre-home blood glucose monitoring), she has spent her life in pursuit of knowledge to allow her to live a healthy life with her disease. She resides in Virginia Beach with her husband and their three boys. An avid recreational exerciser, she enjoys swimming, biking, walking, tennis, weight training, hiking, and yard work, as well as playing with her three sons.

STEVEN V. EDELMAN, MD, an endocrinologist specializing in diabetes care, is a professor at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine. He directs several programs there and at the VA Medical Center in San Diego. He earned his medical degree at the University of California, Davis School of Medicine, where he was valedictorian of his class, and he completed his internship and residency at UCLA, as well as some additional training during a fellowship at the Joslin Clinic in Boston, among other places.

Diagnosed with diabetes himself at the age of 15, Dr. Edelman has become a local and national leader in diabetes treatment, research, and education. He is founder and director of Taking Control of Your Diabetes (TCOYD), a national not-for-profit organization, as well as the primary author of two books, Taking Control of Your Diabetes (3rd edition) and Diagnosis and Management of Type 2 Diabetes (6th edition), and the coauthor of at least three more diabetes-related books. When not on the road lecturing and putting on more than ten TCOYD conferences annually, he resides in San Diego with his wife, Ingrid Kruse, a podiatrist who specializes in treatment of diabetic foot problems, and their two teenage daughters.


The Diabetic Athlete
   The 7 Step Diabetes Fitness Plan
   Diabetes-Free Kids
   (with Mary Friesz)
   The Science of Staying Young
   (with John E. Morley)


Taking Control of Your Diabetes (3rd Edition)
   (with Irl B. Hirsch)
   Diagnosis and Management of Type 2 Diabetes (7th Edition)
   (with Robert R. Henry)
   The Secrets of Living and Loving with Diabetes
   (with Janis Roszler and William H. Polonsky)






For all of the people with diabetes who need a helping hand,
but most of all for Ray Ochs,
my loving husband and supportive partner
in my own diabetes care

To my loving wife, Ingrid, and my two great kids,
Talia and Carina,
for their never-ending support of my efforts
to help people with diabetes



Thank goodness that some things are in the past. For instance, one of us (Dr. Sheri Colberg) clearly remembers believing as a preteen that she was doomed to suffer a premature death from diabetic complications before finishing her high school years, at which point she would have already had type 1 diabetes for well over a decade (since the young age of 4). Now, over three decades later and a quarter century past her high school years, she is living well with diabetes, has given birth to three perfectly healthy sons, and has suffered only minor, treatable diabetes complications to date, despite living almost all of her life with the disease.

We consider ourselves the diabetic version of the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future in Charles Dickens’s classic tale, A Christmas Carol. As was done for Ebenezer Scrooge, we and many other long-time diabetes survivors are going to help you understand your past, present, and possible future with diabetes—before it’s too late to change your personal story and choose a different, healthier ending.


Luckily for Dr. Sheri, her early beliefs were no more than a Dickens-spawned ghost of diabetes past. Her false assumption of a predestined early demise had arisen from reading on her own about all of the “inevitable” consequences of diabetes, which were admittedly a more common reality before the availability of modern-day management tools, better medications, and a greater understanding of the actual causes of diabetes-related health problems. By finding her way to optimal diabetes control using whatever management tools were available to her at any given point in time, she prevented this possible bad ending from becoming her diabetes present or even a likely future.

“For me, the worst part of getting diabetes when I was 4 was being forced to give up eating Froot Loops!” Dr. Sheri recalls. “Back in 1968 when I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (just a month after I had the mumps), the standard diabetes diet required cutting out all sugar. I loved that cereal, and to this day—almost 40 years later—I still remember the cabinet in the kitchen where we used to store the box even though we moved the next year. Getting shots didn’t bother me nearly as much as losing my favorite cereal.

“Now, with modern-day insulin analogs and a blood glucose meter, I could eat Froot Loops if I really wanted to and still manage my blood sugars, but to tell you the truth, I tried them once a few years ago and thought they tasted horrible! I don’t let my kids eat them either, even though they don’t have diabetes, because I know that they make anyone’s blood sugar spike rapidly, and no one needs that.”

Dr. Steve Edelman’s past is a little different from Dr. Sheri’s. He didn’t develop diabetes until he was already 15 years old. “In junior high school, I would run to the restroom to urinate between classes, relieve my distended bladder, and then slurp up as much water as possible at the drinking fountain,” he recalls. “I could not quench my thirst, and all of the kids in line behind me yelled at me because I took so long. Then, halfway through my next class, I would have to urinate again and almost desperately seek out the nearest drinking fountain.” He had the classic symptoms of type 1 diabetes. When he finally realized something was really wrong with him, he asked his mother to take him to the doctor, where he was immediately diagnosed.

The ghosts of diabetes past have been more real for Dr. Steve because of his lack of good control in his early years of diabetes. “Every three months I would see my doctor, who would look at my urine and blood glucose results and say the same thing every time. ‘Steve, you are doing fine. I will see you next time.’ He said the same thing even after I’d had five doughnuts (two glazed, two chocolate cake, and one maple bar) one time before going in for my appointment when I knew my blood sugar was sky-high. In addition, I never went to a camp for diabetic kids or spent any time in support groups or classes for young people with diabetes. I was never educated on how to take an active role in my own diabetes care, and as a result, my control started to slip.” Since that time, though, he has sought out the best diabetes care and the knowledge he needs to both control the problems he has (some eye, kidney, and nerve problems) and prevent others from happening, and he regularly shares everything he knows with others.

In retrospect, even Dr. Sheri would agree that giving up eating her favorite sugary cereal, no matter how much it traumatized her at a young age, was well worth the better health she is likely experiencing now by going without eating it. By making other alterations in your diet and lifestyle that are just as simple to implement, you also have the power to change the course of your life and your experience with diabetes. You can control your blood glucose levels to prevent diabetes-related health complications from happening to you (or better control any you already have), and in the rest of this book, you’ll learn exactly how other long-time diabetes survivors have successfully done it and how you can, too.


Unfortunately, the diabetes past is still all too frequently a part of the present for many people. Poorly controlled diabetes can have a tremendously negative impact on your health. Almost everyone agrees that experiencing good health is truly the most important aspect of living well—with or without diabetes. In fact, without good health, a longer life is not really worth living. If you’re unsure, just ask someone with shooting neuropathy pains (due to nerve damage in the feet from diabetes) what he or she would wish for: a longer life or a pain-free one. While it’s perfectly understandable to wish for both a long and a healthy life (most of us desire both), if forced to make a choice between living long and living well, almost all of us would choose having good health for the rest of our lives, with living longer as our secondary goal.

When diabetes enters the picture, though, you could lose out on both counts. Diabetes has the potential to rob you, on average, of more than twelve years of your life. What’s more, it can also dramatically reduce your quality of life for more than twenty of those years by negatively impacting your health while you are still alive. Your quality of life can be reduced by many physical ailments, but diabetes often causes disability through partial limb amputations, chronic pain, loss of mobility, blindness, chronic dialysis, and/or heart disease. In fact, experts recently estimated that for the 38.5 percent of average females born in the year 2000 or later predicted to develop diabetes, the disease will shorten their lives by over 14 years (if diagnosed by the age of 40) and make their lives a lot less worth living during the last 22. As diabetes survivors ourselves, we can’t think of anything less desirable than living a shorter, disease-limited life.

Just by having diabetes, you already have twice the risk of dying young as someone who is diabetes-free. If you’re a younger type 2 diabetic person (between 25 and 44 years old), your risk is almost four times as high. Diabetes is the sixth leading cause of death, but it should actually have a higher ranking. For instance, if you die from a heart attack or stroke, your death certificate may not even mention diabetes as a cause or contributing factor, even though we now know that poor blood sugar control accelerates the blockage of arteries around your body. The World Health Organization recently estimated that diabetes kills more people worldwide than previously thought, causing well more than 3.2 million deaths per year, or at least six deaths from diabetes every minute of each and every day.


We’re not dwelling on the darker side of diabetes to upset you. Rather, our goal is to give you hope for a brighter future by increasing your awareness of what’s possible and how to prevent problems. Without better education and a concerted effort, all the diabetes management tools in the world aren’t going to make a difference or keep the diabetes past out of our collective present and future lives. The world is currently experiencing the fastest rise in cases of diabetes ever, resulting in an epidemic all around the globe. In fact, American children born in the new millennium have a one in three chance of developing diabetes in their lifetime, and for many minorities like Hispanics and African-Americans, the risk is closer to one in two. Likely more than 21 million people in the United States already have diabetes (7 percent of the entire population), although a third of them still have no idea that they do, and every twenty-one seconds someone is diagnosed with it. A recent conservative prediction of the number of diabetic Americans in the year 2030 is that there will be over 30 million, but with the way things are currently going, it’s likely to be much higher.

More than 90 percent of people are developing type 2 diabetes, which is largely due to an interaction of genetics and lifestyle habits that result in insulin resistance. In their bodies, the glucose-lowering hormone insulin is unable to effectively manage blood sugars, and they usually end up losing too many pancreatic beta cells to make enough insulin, so they will often have to take insulin injections to make up the difference. Another 5 to 10 percent have type 1 diabetes, which results from an abnormal immune system response (and possibly altered sensory nerves) that wipes out their bodies’ own beta cells, leaving them dependent on external insulin for the rest of their lives. Like type 2s, though, people with type 1 diabetes can also develop an insulin-resistant state as a result of lifestyle choices, which only makes their diabetes harder to control. So, when it comes right down to it, no matter what type of diabetes you have, the secrets to controlling it, living well, and preventing diabetes-related health complications are remarkably similar, as you are soon going to find out.


Despite current remaining obstacles to diabetes prevention and control, the future of diabetes is still looking brighter and brighter all the time. The message we want to convey to you is that you can take control of your diabetes, even if you already have complications. It is never too late to feel in control, both mentally and physically. Reaching this future starts with learning from the lessons offered by survivors of past years with diabetes. Many long-time diabetic survivors have been officially identified and awarded by the Joslin Diabetes Center, Lilly Pharmaceuticals, and others. The Joslin facility was started as a private practice in 1898 by Elliott P. Joslin, MD, who believed that the key to managing diabetes is patient involvement, education, and empowerment. This philosophy closely parallels the one that Dr. Steve has adopted for his educational, not-for-profit organization, Taking Control of Your Diabetes (TCOYD), which puts on conferences and health fairs around the country as part of his mission (www.tcoyd.org).

Some time ago, researchers began to track long-living people with diabetes to find out their secrets of longevity. For example, in 1970, the Joslin Diabetes Center established the 50-Year Medal, an award given to anyone using insulin to treat diabetes for a half century (to correspond with 50 years of insulin availability starting in 1921), and they are also studying these individuals to find out their longevity secrets. As of 2005, more than 2,200 people worldwide had received this medal. On the seventy-fifth anniversary of the discovery of insulin in 1996, they also awarded the first medal for living 75 years with diabetes, and as of 2005, over sixteen people had been recognized for achieving this remarkable feat. Lilly Pharmaceuticals, the original manufacturer of insulin for diabetic use (but now just one of several companies that make it), also established 25-, 50, and 75-year awards (for insulin users) as part of its LillyforLife program in 1974, and since the program’s inception, this company has presented more than 1,500 of its own 50-Year Insulin Awards. While the majority of the recognized individuals have type 1 diabetes, anyone with type 2 diabetes who has been using insulin for at least a quarter of a century also qualifies for these awards.

What makes these long-living individuals’ accomplishments so remarkable is that blood glucose meters have only been widely available since the early 1980s, so these survivors have lived a large part of their diabetic lives without the benefit of knowing their exact blood glucose readings (or being able to fully control them). Furthermore, the average life span for most individuals, with diabetes or without, is only around 74 years for men and 78 years for women in the United States, so living for 75 years with the disease means that they have outlived many people living without it.


On Sale
Jan 1, 2008
Page Count
336 pages

Sheri R. Colberg, PhD

About the Author

Sheri R. Colberg, PhD, is an exercise physiologist and associate professor of exercise science in the Exercise Science, Sport, Physical Education and Recreation Department at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. Having earned a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, she specializes in research in diabetes and exercise. She continues to conduct extensive clinical research specifically in type 2 diabetes and exercise with funding from the American Diabetes Association. She has also authored close to fifty research and educational articles on exercise and diabetes, as well as two books, The Diabetic Athlete (Human Kinetics, 2001) and Diabetes-Free Kids (Avery, June 2005). She lives in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Anne Peters, MD, author of Conquering Diabetes, is the Director of Clinical Diabetes Programs at the University of Southern California.

Learn more about this author