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Using her husband’s diabetes diet plan, she’s healthier than ever

When Peggy Conkle’s husband, Steve, was diagnosed with diabetes, she decided to help him by following along with his diet plan.

Fifteen years later, she’s healthier than ever, exercising avidly and eating a healthful diet.

“I do it because I like how I look in my clothes,” she said. “I love shopping.”

Steve Conkle’s treatments included cutting back on carbohydrates such as pasta and bread, and increasing lean protein and fruit, and all the vegetables they could eat.

She joined him. “I was surprised,” she said. “I lost 20 pounds myself.”

They also started exercising.

He liked running. He lost 70 pounds. She has been a staff member of the South County Family YMCA in St. Louis for 27 years. She began to exercise immediately after work.

About six years ago, she said, she joined a contest in the YMCA to lose weight. “I didn’t win, but I lost 15 more pounds. It didn’t come off fast,” she said. “My goal was a pound a week.”

So she went from 150 pounds to 115. That program connected her to exercising. She’d done some until then, but this switched something on. She works out 4:30 p.m. every day. During the week, she shows up two to three days a week at 5:30 a.m. to lift weights.

At one time she was taking every fitness class available at the YMCA. “I was the queen of classes for a while,” she said. But “lifting is my favorite. It’s not lifting a lot, but enough for toned, not big, strapping muscles.”

She said she’s often teased about the small amounts of weights she uses. But depending on the goal, the dumbbells she lifts can be up to 20 pounds.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorses strength training as vital to health at any age, but especially for older people.

“Strength training, particularly in conjunction with regular aerobic exercise, can also have a profound impact on a person’s mental and emotional health,” the CDC writes.

Benefits include reduction in the effect of diseases such as diabetes, arthritis, osteoporosis, obesity and back pain.

It alters mood in some cases as effectively as antidepressant drugs. And it improves sleep.

It restores balance and reduces falls, a major issue for people over 60.

A study in New Zealand in women 80 years of age and older “showed a 40 percent reduction in falls with simple strength and balance,” the CDC says.

And it’s a major relief of bone loss. A 1994 study sponsored by the American Medical Association showed strength training reduced the risk of fractures among women 50 to 70.

Maintaining weight for years and being physically fit doesn’t mean a boring life, she said. She still treats herself to junk food every so often.

When she and her husband began the health regimen, “we’d go to Burger King and split a Whopper and fries,” she said. “We may still do that, but I know how much lifting and (aerobics) I’ll have to do to pay that back.”

That convenience food diet turned into a healthful diet, she said. Yogurt and/or oatmeal for breakfast; dinner is meat and vegetables; lunch is fruit, or oatmeal, and at one time, she’d bring a slice of whole wheat bread with peanut butter.

“You just keep the portions down,” she said.

She talks to a lot of people who visit the YMCA, considering she’s been there 27 years. Many people saw her change and have seen her maintain.

“I didn’t start pushing until I was 50,” she said. “You’d be surprised what you could do once you start.”