NEW ORLEANS — Sheri R. Colberg-Ochs, PhD, FACSM, professor of exercise science at Old Dominion University and adjunct professor of internal medicine at Eastern Virginia Medical School, received the 2016 Outstanding Educator in Diabetes Award from the American Diabetes Association.
The award is given to a health professional who has made meaningful contributions to the understanding of diabetes education. Colberg-Ochs, a recognized leader in diabetes and exercise, has defined physical activity guidelines for people living with diabetes for professional organizations including ADA, the American Association of Diabetes Educators and the American College of Sports Medicine.
Sheri R. Colberg-Ochs
Endocrine Today spoke with Colberg-Ochs about her own experience living with type 1 diabetes, her very earlier start as a personal trainer and her interest in using exercise as medicine.
What was the defining moment that led you to your field?
I don't think there was a single defining moment as much as a series of events that led me into my career. I always exercised growing up because it made me feel better and more in control of my own diabetes. I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 4 years, back in the “dark ages” of diabetes care. When I was 12 years old, I spent a week with my obese grandmother who had type 2 diabetes, and I agreed to be her personal coach and trainer for a week to help her lose weight on her latest Weight Watchers diet. I had her running laps around the backyard, I measured out her cottage cheese, and I weighed her in daily. She had agreed to pay me $1 for every pound she lost, and she was down $8 in the first week — I was a rich kid! In college, I was a premed student for a while and volunteered in an ER, which made me want to work with well people who wanted to stay that way rather than people who were already sick and in a hospital. I also “minored” in athletics in college by working as a student football manager, and I loved being around active people.
What area of diabetes care most interests you right now and why?
To me, the most interesting area of diabetes care is the newfound interest in using exercise as medicine instead of just popping more pills. This switch from treating symptoms to focusing more on prevention and effective management of diabetes and its potential complications with lifestyle changes — which even helps in the management of type 1 diabetes, not just type 2 — is long overdue in my opinion. When I interviewed a number of long-living people with diabetes (both types) about a decade ago, what I learned was that the lifestyle choices that people make to live long and well are the same whether or not someone has diabetes, and they certainly include more physical activity, less sedentary time and more healthful food choices.
What do you think will have
the greatest influence on your field in the next 10 years?
Every day we understand a little bit more about what causes the onset of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, and once we fully know that, it will be so much easier to tailor interventions to prevent, reverse and better manage these diseases. The body's metabolism is a complex and intricate system, and we need to know more about why exercise is such a powerful “medicine” for diabetes and other metabolic diseases, which may have a lot to do with the gut microbiome.
What advice would you offer to a student going into diabetes care today?
It is critically important to focus on treating the whole person, not just the symptoms. Effective diabetes management is much more than just making sure that someone takes his or her prescribed medications. Diabetes care providers also need to understand that not exercising enough or eating better foods is not always just about willpower. Making lasting behavior changes is tough for the most disciplined person when life gets stressful or time is short, and almost impossible for people who have to juggle multiple stressors related to their jobs, finances, families, personal health and more. We need to do what we can to facilitate more positive behaviors, even if it’s just teaching people to stand up more during the day or take more daily steps. Those who are the least fit gain the most from doing very little compared to fit, athletic individuals. We need to encourage them to take baby steps in the right direction as they may end up making a huge difference to their personal health.
What are your hobbies/interests outside of work?
Most of all, I love to be active. My husband, Ray Ochs, and I take 2- to 3-hour walks together (holding hands) on the weekends now that our kids are older and moving out of the house. I work out almost daily doing a variety of activities that I enjoy, and I've been doing that for the past 40 years, at least. I also love to read and write. I actually write books for fun (I'm up to 10 and counting), and I love to hear when I have helped someone be healthier or more active through my books, articles, websites or blogs.
For more information:
Sheri R. Colberg-Ochs, PhD, FACSM, can be reached through her website: www.shericolberg.com.
Disclosure: Colberg-Ochs reports no relevant financial disclosures.