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Sun, Sea and Sweat-How living in Aruba made conquering diabetes easy

I was not born in Aruba, but after living here for 36 years I certainly think of myself as an Americana/Arubiana.  I came here in 1980 as a PADI Certified SCUBA Instructor. I was the envy of all the other instructor candidates in my class for achieving their primary ambition, securing work on an island paradise doing what was for us all a consuming passion, and realizing the dream.

Rosalie Klein Scuba Diving Antilla Wreck Aruba

The Diagnosis

The past ten years that I have lived on Aruba I have gained a reputation as a journalist and photographer, not quite the athletic lifestyle I enjoyed prior to entering the media. Combine attending a whirl of events where gourmet food was often at the core and then largely sitting at a computer writing or editing photographs, along with advancing middle age and increasing weight gain, and you have an excellent recipe for developing Type II Diabetes.

In November of 2015, my house doctor sent me for testing after I complained of chest pains, and the results came back that I was definitively diabetic.

"How do you feel about this?" he asked me, and boy, was he sorry he did, as I burst into tears. It was not that the diagnosis surprised me all that much, I had a terrible family history of the disease as well as mild bouts with it while pregnant with my two children.

The latter I was able to control through diet, and I gave birth to robustly healthy babies. I suppose it was more about being brought up short and realizing how tedious and humdrum my life had become.

My Resolution to Get Fit

I was given the standard treatment: one pill of Metaforme daily to control my sugar levels; a rather mild medical regimen compared to most. After contemplating the situation, however, I decided that the true solution to the situation was simply to get fit.

A change of lifestyle was in order, and there is really no better place for shaping up than Aruba, a land of eternal summer and endless options for achieving a healthy lifestyle.

"Healthy and Lifestyle" are the two key components in this equation; one does not simply "go on a diet" to normalize their blood sugar. I will admit, it is highly likely that the complete upheaval of my diet and activity is perhaps easier for me than the average Aruban, as my eating habits of an unhealthy diet are not quite as ingrained.

Rosalie Klein Before and After

I did literally go through my refrigerator and pantry to remove all foods that might tempt me: fats, sweets, starches and all those items with empty calories. I am embarrassed at the proliferation of useless and high salt edibles that inhabited my cupboard.

Aside from drastically reducing my intake and eliminating night time snacking, I also increased imbibing water from rarely to about a gallon a day. Fortunately, Aruba has what is one of the most delicious waters in the world, straight from the tap. A good mineral supplement offsets its rather low mineral content.

Diet alone is not nearly enough to conquer diabetes; adopting a regular exercise program is key to losing weight, but, most importantly, getting fit. Fortunately, living in a land of eternal summer offers endless opportunities to walk, run, jog, swim, and bike, as well as participate in summer team sports of every stripe. There is no excuse for not taking advantage of the spectacular weather at any hour to get in your minimally required 30 minutes a day of aerobic exercise.

Picture by Ida Does 2015

Jogging along the beach at sunset, picture Rosalie Klein.

Aruba’s Natural Elements

I follow a much more extensive program. I start with around 90 minutes of strength training, and then, just around dawn, I go walking for about one hour, every day. I cannot tell you how exhilarating it is to watch an Aruban sunrise; they rival our sunsets for drama and color and the air is so much cooler and refreshing.

I complete my daily workout with a session of water walking in the sea, usually along the Divi beach front. Yes, water walking! I thank Aruba's calm waters for allowing me this exhilarating daily routine. Not only is it a great cool down in its own right, but wonderful therapy for backaches and joint pain, and costs absolutely nothing to indulge.

Prior to my shaping up, I was in such pain, it was torment just to walk from my bed to my bathroom in the morning. Now, I would rather walk than ride to the market, or town, or any errand that I need do, aside from my normal morning constitutional.

Rosalie Klein Water Walking in Aruba

Healthy Blood Sugar Levels

I started slowly, gradually working my way to the extensive exercise program I now follow. I lost 60 pounds within the first four months, dropping several sizes along the way. I, and my doctor, were delighted.

At this point, I requested I be taken off medication and retested, to see if I had normalized my blood sugar. Though doubtful, the doctor honored my request, and my results showed that I had dropped from a 7.9 blood sugar level to 4.5; normal levels range anywhere from 4 to 6. A follow up test three months later confirmed that I was maintaining my healthy blood sugar levels. I hesitate to say I am cured, as diabetes is considered incurable, but it can be controlled by maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle.

In August of this year, I inscribed in a month - long fitness challenge conducted by Ling & Son's market. I was already in good shape, but wished to see how far I could take this. I lost another 5 pounds and my BMI went from "perfect" to "athlete." It was quite gratifying, as was the substantial gift certificate to the market I was awarded for placing 5th out of 150 participants, based on weight loss, attendance, and, I think most of all, enthusiasm.

Diabetes in Aruba

While investigating the possibility of making a documentary about my journey, and the diabetes situation on Aruba, I discovered some shocking statistics. Aruba is one of 23 countries in the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) NAC (North American/Caribbean Region.) By the close of 2015, 10,700 cases of Type II diabetes had been diagnosed and recorded on the island.

This has made Aruba not only the country where diabetes is most prevalent in proportion to every other nation in the region, but we also surpass all other nations around the world, again, proportionate to our population. Not so surprising considering the typical Aruban diet is highly concentrated with fats, starches and sweets.

Kitesurfing is also a great way to exercise

Ironically, however, we live in a climate that is so conducive to keeping fit. Health officials and professionals are increasingly concerned about this situation, and doing the utmost to make some headway in educating the population. Initiatives such as the Ling & Son's fitness campaign are becoming increasingly frequent and high profile. Various athletic events, and community fun run/walks are commonplace weekend events. Vacationers are welcome to participate in any of them.

IBISA is Aruba's official arm of the Ministry of Health and Sport that supervises the annual schedule for these fun run/walks, called "caminatas" in Papiamento, and announcements of upcoming events can be found on their Facebook page.

Staying Fit whilst on Vacation

If visitors wish to continue their fitness regimen while on vacation, (or even start one) there are myriad opportunities to do so on Aruba. Not only can they easily indulge in walks or jogs at any time of the day, but the choices of sporting activities are endless. Our crystal clear, stunning turquoise seas call out to you to try snorkeling or SCUBA diving, where you may discover a new passion that will help keep you fit.

Other interesting water activities include Stand up Paddle (SUP) surfing lessons, outrigger canoeing, kitesurfing and windsurfing, just to name a few that could easily become a regular pastime, once you discover how much fun they can be.

Biking is also a great way to stay fit on Aruba

Escape the Winter Weather

If you are escaping frigid weather during your Aruban sojourn, do take advantage of the ideal climate to pursue a healthy, active lifestyle for the week. Many think of a vacation as an excuse to overindulge, but you may learn, as I did, that your health and fitness are a full-time concern. Here you have a perfect opportunity to offset some delectable meals with proper exercise. Or maintain a healthy diet by selecting some of the excellent fresh caught local fish available at most restaurants.

Nearly every resort provides their guests with fitness rooms and easily accessible activities that take advantage of our reliable weather and beautiful beaches. Don't just laze around the beach or bars, think of Aruba as the island of sun, sea and sweat!

Editor's Note: 

Rosalie Klein just published the second edition of the Moon Aruba Handbook which hit the shelves of all major bookstores the end of September. A 256 page in-depth guide to everything a vacationer would wish to know, including history,  culture and environment, it makes a perfect Christmas gift for any  Arubaphile! Visit http://moon.com/explore/aruba/ for more information on the Moon Aruba Handbook. 

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About the blogger: Rosalie Klein
Rosalie Klein has lived in Aruba for over 35 years. Her articles and photographs have appeared in nearly every English language magazine published on Aruba, and for more than a decade she was the principal reporter for island papers The News and The Morning News. She is the author of the Moon Handbook Aruba, of which the second edition hit the shelves of all major bookstores the end of September. A 256 page in-depth guide to everything a vacationer would wish to know, including history, culture and environment, it makes a perfect Christmas gift for any Arubaphile!