Getting fit helps solve a serious sleep problem

The day Linda Balizer blacked out at work inspired her to become fitter than ever. The episode, likely brought on by untreated sleep apnea, was pivotal for the Albuquerque, N.M., woman.

“The health issue did trigger my decision to get fit, which has become an exciting and fun adventure,” says Balizer, 72.

About a year ago she passed out at work. An ambulance ride to the hospital and batteries of tests linked her sleep apnea, diagnosed about 10 years before, to the seizure. Losing weight and getting fit can help relieve sleep apnea, a disorder that causes one to quit breathing during sleep then wake for a breath, resulting in an oxygen shortage and sleep deprivation that can lead to more severe health issues.

But Balizer credits dedicated nightly use of her a continuous positive airway pressure or CPAP machine for the past year for keeping her alert and on her feet. She tried to use it before, but found it uncomfortable and had issues with sinus infections, she says. She struggled with the machine this time as well, but she persisted.

“I wouldn’t want someone to think they can totally control sleep apnea with physical fitness,” she says. “Since I began using the CPAP machine, I have had no further episodes.”

Physical fitness has unquestionably improved her illness and her life. “Getting fit affected my health, energy, attitude and weight.”

Although she had always watched her diet and exercise, she wanted to jumpstart her effort and measure her progress toward her goals.

So Balizer trained for a triathlon.

Even though she did the course with about 10 other people, she says nothing was easy about it. She ran and walked the 5K and then took her bike from the rack for the 12-mile ride. After she racked her bike again to swim, she remembers thinking, “You have got to be kidding. But by then I was sitting on the edge of the pool and I thought well, I’m jumping in anyway.” When she finished, “I was ecstatic. This changes everything for me.”

Although she thought her diet was healthy, she became a vegan for a while to sort out what kinds of foods were best for her. She lost 21 pounds and dropped her total cholesterol 100 points: “I feel so much better. I still eat organic, but I’m no longer a vegan.” She joined a gym, walks three miles a few times a week and does weight training.

She says she wishes other people her age would train with her: “No offense, but I would like to have someone my own age to train with. I’d like people to know you don’t have to be in good shape to start training. You just have to start.”

— Albuquerque Journal, N.M.