LAWTON, Okla. – At noon, a stream of Comanche Nation members file into the Comanche Nation Fitness Center. Dressed in workout clothes, dozens start their regimen in a tribally-funded physical fitness program, The Workout Warriors. Several flat screen TVs flicker on the walls while music plays on loud speakers.
Some go straight to the weights, others to the treadmills and some start a 15-minute core conditioning class with a personal trainer. In its latest version, Comanche Nation’s Workout Warriors III, has ushered in the new year running with free workout classes to those who are fighting inactivity and the adult onset diabetes that often comes with it.
The eight-week program has become something of a hit in the jurisdiction of 14,000 Comanche Nation members, officials said. The response has been steady with the program starting at a few and currently at 79 participants.
Comanche Nation’s Vincent McCarthy Jr., of Lawton said the plan for the new fitness center was originally to find a place where tribal youth could get active. But there was another motivation: To let tribal members know that through activity they didn’t have to inherit the pancreas deficiency disease themselves.
“These days, kids play video games, text or are on the computer,” he said. “When I was little, you couldn’t make us stay in.”
At the center, interested participants can sign up for pre-screening and the eight-week workout program that runs through March. It offers exercise equipment, personal training and various workout classes including resistance band, step aerobics and a boot camp.
Workout Warrior Misti Devine, of Geronimo, Okla., has been working out for nearly six months. She counts five pounds lost and three-and-a-half inches dropped on her waist. Devine does three classes and walks on the weekend. While not diagnosed with diabetes, she wanted to get her weight and blood pressure under control after having a baby, she said.
“I can work out anytime,” she said. “And I am working on changing what I eat, like I switched from milk to dark chocolate and drink more water.”
Program participants need only complete an application and post and pre-screenings. Getting people to complete three 30-minute workout sessions is key. While the program is open to the public, only enrolled Indians are eligible for incentives that can include workout aids, said program trainer, Angelena Ketner.
Ketner said the tribe has an account with Nike so they could offer participants points. The more points they accumulated, they could buy apparel at cost. But the best incentive is old-fashioned encouragement.
“When people see their results, they feel better about what they’ve done and what they’ve completed,” Ketner said.
The Workout Warriors program is funded with $130,000 a year through the Comanche Nation by gaming funds, according to the tribe’s published 2009 budget. The center opened in May 2008. The funds are augmented by IHS as well, officials said.
Researchers are finding ties between inactivity and diabetes rates in Indian country go hand-in-hand. A breakthrough longitudinal study, “The Strong Heart Study," has found that being active goes a long way for tribal people. University of Washington researchers found that over 10 years, Indians who were physically active had a lower rate of diabetes.
Amanda Fretts, whose family is First Nations, Mi’kmaq of Eels Ground, New Brunswick, was on the UW research effort, said most of her home community is affected by diabetes.
“The burden of diabetes in our communities is much higher than other ethnic groups in the U.S.”
IHS clinician-diagnosed diabetes has gone up 7.7 percent within the past few years, researchers said.
The study sorted risk factors among 13 American Indian communities in four states including North Dakota, South Dakota, Oklahoma and Arizona. The answer was pretty clear: Indians who resisted inactivity had a lower rate of diabetes, officials said.
Fretts said of those they followed in the long-term study, they found activity overall was of the unorganized kind. The most common activities reported for Indian men was gardening, walking and hunting while women tended to garden, walk and dance.
“The relief was that many of the activities are common in Indian country,” she said. “You don’t have to be a marathon runner to reduce your risk of diabetes.”
Another factor that complicates the diabetes battle in Indian country is common to other minority groups, researchers said. Minority people are less likely to embrace Western-held treatment to diabetes, especially care that is self-monitored. They tend to do better when care involves a family member, researchers said.
Monitoring sugar (glucose) numbers and altering eating habits pop up as problems as well, experts said. The introduction of health/exercise programs and the availability of these programs leads to success.
Word-of-mouth advertising for a lifestyle change is invaluable. At a recent Comanche Nation holiday dinner, tribal members were reminded that a better life is an individual choice.
“Diabetes is not our destiny,” said Comanche Nation tribal administrator Willie Nelson.
McCarthy echoes that sentiment.
“One mentality we’re trying to break is, ‘My grandma or grandpa has diabetes, I’m going to get it.’ But no, that’s not the way it has to be.”