Now was the time to relax.
After 20 years of service in the U.S. Army — ten of which he spent as a drill sergeant — Sergeant Gomersindo Gómez was ready to take it easy. He had not missed a day of exercise in his professional life and looked forward to saying goodbye to the daily runs that were essential to keep up with “the youngsters” in his charge. “I decided that retirement meant the end to my exercise regimen,” he says. “Now was the time to do what I wanted to do.”
Two years later, Gomersindo found himself 65 pounds heavier and with a diagnosis of Type-2 diabetes. “I wasn’t paying attention to my health at all…and didn’t really care, honestly,” he admits.
For the next four years, Gomersindo perfunctorily checked his blood sugar levels and managed his diabetes with insulin — but did little to change his diet and activity level. “I naively thought taking insulin was enough to control my diabetes,” he says. “I was depending on my meds to let me live the way I wanted without making changes.”
In 1992, his doctors’ warnings began to get scary. Gomersindo learned that the long-term effects of diabetes included risk of heart attack and premature death, a prognosis that prompted him to take personal inventory. With a large family of children and grandchildren and a prominent role advocating for other military veterans, he decided that it was time for yet another change.
Gomersindo joined his local YMCA and began to ease back into a routine of walking and weightlifting. He also began to follow a diet recommended for diabetics and entirely eliminated alcohol from his life. The changes weren’t immediate, but proved dramatic over time. “It took me a little more than a year to notice that I was losing weight and that my numbers were improving.” He brought his weight down to 180 pounds (a weight that he maintains at 66 years of age) and his blood sugar levels began to fall consistently between 105 and 125 mg/dl. More than two decades later, he maintains a healthy diet and faithful fitness regimen.
The changes that good exercise and diet brought to Gomersindo’s life did more than bring him physical benefits. In the years following his service in the Vietnam War, Sergeant Gómez struggled to maintain good mental health. “I experienced post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after the war. Naturally, that made me depressed, which took me to alcohol.”
According to Gomersindo, regular exercise has become an instrumental way for him to achieve mental wellness. “PTSD can make you a workaholic — at least that’s what it did to me,” he admits. “I found that the time I take for exercise is also time for me to put my mind at ease, review my life, and plan where I need to make changes.” And how does he describe his mental health today? “I’m happy. Every day I wake up with purpose.”
As a passionate advocate for veterans and the executive director of the Bilingual Veterans Outreach Center in Springfield, MA, Gomersindo credits an active lifestyle and healthy diet with allowing him to do what he most loves. “My job challenges me mentally and physically, so I need to stay in shape so that I can help veterans like me get through life. Staying healthy has given me the energy I need to not retire,” he says. “Also, I wanted to be sure that I could live long enough to enjoy my grandchildren. And I do,” he says, nodding with conviction. “I do.”
Find out how food and fitness can help regulate your diabetes, and learn where you can get fresh ingredients locally for a diabetes-friendly diet.