Joseph Simmons of Run-DMC raps about his fight against diabetes

Joseph Simmons, a.k.a. Rev. Run of Run-DMC, has become a spokesman for preventing Type 2 diabetes.
(Noel Malcolm)

Joseph Simmons, a.k.a. Rev Run, better be on Aerosmith’s Christmas card list. He was part of the Run-DMC hip-hop trio, one of the most influential music acts, and its cover of “Walk This Way” became one of the biggest hits of the 1980s. Musically, the Rev took risks, and they paid off, but as a new grandfather, he’s not willing to take risks with his health. After learning that African Americans are at a significantly higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, Simmons, 49, not only took action to transform his health but also spread the word to others.

It’s well established that exercise is a great way to prevent and treat Type 2 diabetes. Is physical activity something you have experience with?

I was an athlete growing up. Basketball, baseball, swimming, playing football … just everything. I was on every team that I could find, even the bowling team. I was always running around and in the park every morning before the sun was up. Everything was about moving outside. I was bone skinny growing up. But things change when you get married and you’re at home and you’re not being active and you’re just sitting around eating.

You’ve become a spokesman for preventing Type 2 diabetes. How did that happen?


My manager came to me and told me about his father having diabetes, and he knew my father had diabetes and had passed. He told me about the campaign called Ask.Screen.Know., and I decided it was my time to speak about public health. I do daily words of wisdom on Twitter, and it seemed like a perfect match because, especially in the African American community, the risk is doubled. That was enough for me to become concerned about it, because I wake up every morning black.

So you learned that you were at a higher risk. What then?

I didn’t know what to eat at first. I developed a routine of changing eggs to egg whites and Coke to Diet Coke and eating smaller bits of Snickers instead of the whole Snickers. And instead of having fried chicken, I can remove the skin and put the chicken in the oven instead. There are many things I can do that can keep me happy so I don’t crash from going too hard on some restrictive diet. My wife got involved in figuring out what kinds of foods are good for me to have, and there are recipes on the website for Ask.Screen.Know.

And how did things change on the physical activity front?

I have a gym in my [New Jersey] house, and I’ve been doing a lot with a lady named Angelica who comes and trains with me, so I’ve been lifting weights and push-ups and all types of exercises that she comes up with. My wife and I have been walking lots together, which is something I’m proud of. It’s nice to get out in nature and just walk. This is a change for me, but it makes me happy. I’m a grandfather now, and I want to be able to keep up with my granddaughter when she starts running around.

And how are you staying motivated to stick with this regimen?

I have someone who weighs me every week. It creates responsibility for me. I’ve lost 20 pounds, but I feel like I need to pick up speed with my weight loss. I want to be able to say I’ve lost 30 pounds soon. The last time walking with my wife, I said to her, “Maybe it will be three times around the track soon.” Two times around is 25 to 30 minutes, and we’re pretty sure it’s going to get better.

Fell is a certified strength and conditioning specialist and founder of