While we enthusiastically share the message that a healthy lifestyle is important, Highmark Health employees don’t just talk the talk — we also walk the talk (#IWalktheTalk). In this series, employees share their stories and tips on achieving and maintaining a healthy lifestyle — and what makes them tick when it comes to health.

In 2005 I ran the New York City Marathon.

Matt Stehl running at the New York Marathon

“Marathon Matt” in action.

In 2013 I was diagnosed as pre-diabetic.

I always considered myself pretty athletic. But, like many people, I had gained a few pounds since my glory days — a condition I attributed to finishing my kids’ meals when we went out to eat (there’s something irresistible about chicken fingers).

Then I went for my employee health screening. I have a terrible family history of heart disease, and medication had controlled my cholesterol, but at that point I thought I knew my numbers, and that I was in good shape.

Insights from My Annual Health Screening

The first indication of a problem was when the screener at my annual health screening looked at my results and asked if my diet included a lot of fast food. Sure, I enjoyed the more-than-occasional cheesesteak and pizza, but I didn’t think my diet was that bad. When the screener said I should see my doctor about diabetes, the only thing I could think of was the funny way Wilford Brimley said “diabetes” in the old commercials. You’re hearing his voice right now aren’t you? Still, I took the advice.

I got a blood glucose test, talked to my doctor, and faced the reality that my highly sporadic workout schedule did not offset my poor diet. I wasn’t the 25-year-old who could eat anything and not gain a pound. I was the 41-year-old with three chins, and I had prediabetes.

This is the photo on my employee ID badge. It’s a great picture of my three chins, and frankly it’s a healthy motivator since I see it every day.

This is the photo on my employee ID badge. It’s a great picture of my three chins, and frankly it’s a healthy motivator since I see it every day.

Fighting My Way Back to Marathon Matt

I started tracking my calories, joined the YMCA and slowly made changes. At first, nothing happened. So I did more. I started tracking Weight Watchers points and committing to working out two or three times a week.

It took a while, but over time, I started to see real change. In two years I lost 30 pounds. From my increased energy level to more restful sleep, I felt a lot better.

Last summer I returned to my doctor with a cocky bounce in my step. I found out my blood glucose levels had improved, but were still at a pre-diabetic level. I realized then that I was in a lifelong battle. My hopes of making changes for a year and then returning to Mr. Cheesesteak were dashed.

With a family history of heart disease and having seen my father-in-law lose a foot to diabetes, I knew I had to keep battling. Life is too much fun, playing sports with the kids is too much fun — I want to stick around for awhile. So I made a year-long commitment to join the YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Class. For me the best thing about the class is that it has kept me focused on my health. It has challenged me to make more sustainable changes in my life, realizing that there will always be peaks and valleys. (I gained three pounds in one weekend — how is that even possible?)

In the last year I’ve returned to playing Dek Hockey (my wife calls it “run around”) and even joined a spinning class — a spinning class that meets on Saturday at 6:30 a.m., no less! I’ve always enjoyed riding my bike, so, athletically, this is in my wheelhouse, but I enjoy sleep more, so the fact that I keep going to class is, for me, a big deal. And it turns out the timing of the class has made for a truly sustainable change. Nobody schedules meetings or kids’ baseball games at 6:30 on Saturday morning, so I have no excuses not to go.

I really feel like my life changed with that employee health screening. I feel “Marathon Matt” healthy again, and I can still beat my kids at basketball. Sure, they’re ten and six, but that’s not the point. The point is I’m healthy enough to hold them off for a few more years.

Matt and his family in 2016

My family in the summer of 2016 (Coleman, Nolan, my wife Melanie, and me).