At the age of 51, Julia Winstead unknowingly received the perfect prescription
for losing weight and staying fit. The Torrance resident was diagnosed
with type 1 diabetes as a toddler and had done a good job controlling
the disease through eating a healthy diet and closely monitoring her blood
sugar. But she’d put on 30 pounds in a short time and knew she needed
to find a way to shed that weight.
The answer came via a birthday gift from a dear friend—a hula hoop.
Winstead was hooked. “I love it. I have more energy,” she
says. “It’s therapy for me.”
Winstead—who has earned the moniker “The Happy Hooper”—hoops
one or two days a week, often at Wilson Park. She brings a speaker for
her music, a mat to stand on and extra hoops so passersby can take a turn.
Winstead also performs at senior centers, encouraging her audience to
give hooping a try. “We clap and hoot and holler. They love it when
the staff tries it,” she says.
Thanks in great part to the hooping, Winstead lost all the weight she had
put on in her 40s. Now 56 years old, her vitality exceeds expectations
for someone who has lived with diabetes for so many decades. In fact,
when she was diagnosed in 1961, doctors told Winstead’s parents
she would only live to around age 40. Medical advances have pushed life
expectancy for diabetics much further, but Winstead is nevertheless in
noteworthy physical shape given her chronic condition.
“It’s difficult to manage type 1 diabetes when you’ve
had it for more than 50 years, and Julia’s doing a very good job,”
says Cathy Doria-Medina,MD, a Torrance Memorial-affiliated physician specializing
in endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism. “She stays active, eats
healthy and gets in daily exercise. Hula hooping has been a great activity
Winstead’s blood sugar fluctuates, so she must test her levels four
to six times a day. The condition unfortunately has taken a toll on her
eyes: Diabetic retinopathy—damage to the blood vessels of the eyes
caused by diabetes—gradually stole her vision. Today she is legally
blind and has a Seeing Eye dog.
But that hasn’t stopped Winstead from staying busy. She took advantage
of her health insurer’s offer of free gym membership and joined
a local fitness club. She visits once or twice per week, using machines
such as the pull- down bar, abdominal machine and treadmill. “I
don’t like using the machines, but I know I need to do it,”
she says. She walks her service dog a mile every morning and sometimes
another mile in the late afternoon.
Winstead also loves to craft and creates custom hula hoops. She found sources
for supplies such as piping and tape and makes hoops both as gifts and
to sell at craft fairs.
If hooping had an official spokesperson, Winstead would surely be a contender.
“It’s low- impact and it works your whole body,” she
says. “Hooping works for everyone: Just learn to relax and feel
But it’s more than Winstead’s words that demonstrate the benefits
of the activity.
“People are blown away that I’m 56.”