"I think I was so focused on what was of interest to me in my life that diabetes was simply something I got used to," Lewis said. "It became just a hurdle I needed to go through to get someplace."
Indeed, many older diabetics may have lived so long, because "they have turned their diabetes into an asset," explained Dr. Sheri Colberg, a Virginia Beach, Va., exercise physiologist who has done much research on diabetes, longevity and lifestyle.
Colberg -- a type 1 diabetic herself -- interviewed dozens of diabetic seniors for her book, 50 Secrets of the Longest Living People With Diabetes. "I actually had some people who told me, 'Diabetes saved my life,' " she said. "They said to themselves, 'If I don't do this, I am going to die sooner.' They used diabetes as an incentive to adopt a healthier lifestyle, better eating patterns. And to stay physically active -- every one of them was physically active."
That's something Cleveland and Lewis agreed with.
"I've always been more of an outdoor person and more interested in exercise, games, swimming, thing like that," Cleveland said. "They were definitely advantageous for a diabetic."
Lewis added that the discipline and energy expenditure demanded by competitive swimming forced him early on to closely track his blood sugar highs and lows.
"I would advise people to test frequently, to get to know what your own [blood sugar] profile is, and then to set up a game plan to deal with those effects," he said.
Exercise also helps people stay slim, which is always a good thing when it comes to either type 1 or adult-onset type 2 diabetes, Deeb said. Indeed, all of the advice for people with type 1 disease would apply to the greater population of people with type 2 illness, he said.
Another key to a long, healthy life with diabetes: the support of loved ones
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