If you have diabetes, it’s important to pay attention to your heart health. Heart disease is a common complication of diabetes. In fact, people with diabetes are 3 times more likely to die of heart disease compared to those who don’t have diabetes. The good news is that there are a number of things you can do to reduce your risk. Read on to learn 7 things you need to know about diabetes and heart health.
1. Make healthy lifestyle choices
Check out these heart-healthy lifestyle tips – eating healthy foods, exercising regularly and quitting smoking – that can help lower your risk.
Follow a healthy diet. These tips can help:
- Watch portion sizes to prevent overeating
- Eat healthy carbohydrates (for example, whole grains and legumes), and fruits and vegetables
- Limit processed foods and those with high sugar content
- Choose unsaturated fats (the “good” fats) instead of saturated or trans fats. Foods that contain unsaturated fats include avocados, olive and canola oil, nuts and seeds, and fish (especially salmon and trout)
- Choose lean animal proteins (such as chicken) and vegetable proteins (such as tofu)
- Drink plenty of water (instead of pop or juice)
Exercise regularly. Physical activity has a number of benefits, including: improved blood sugar control; reduced blood pressure and cholesterol levels; decreased insulin resistance; and weight loss. Aim to exercise for a minimum of 2½ hours every week, spread over at least 3 days of the week.
Stop smoking. Smoking is dangerous for everyone, but it’s especially dangerous for people with diabetes. While quitting smoking may be difficult, the benefits are clear and include a reduced risk of heart attack and stroke, and improved blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
2. Manage your weight
If you are overweight, losing even a few pounds can reduce your risk of heart disease and help keep your blood sugars in check. The Diabetes Canada clinical practice guidelines note that losing even 5% to 10% of your body weight can help control blood sugar levels and improve heart health.
3. Keep track of your A1C target
A1C is a blood test that measures your blood sugar control over the last 3 months. Keeping your A1C at the target set for you by your diabetes healthcare team will help reduce your risk of heart disease. The target A1C for most people with diabetes is 7% or lower.
4. Lower your blood pressure
High blood pressure can lead to heart disease and stroke, as well as eye disease and kidney disease. You may need to change your eating and exercise habits and/ or take pills to keep your blood pressure below the target of 130/80 mm Hg recommended by Diabetes Canada.
5. Watch your cholesterol
High cholesterol can lead to heart disease and stroke, but often has no signs or symptoms. The only way to know whether you have high cholesterol is to get it checked. Your healthcare team can do a simple blood test, called a “lipid profile,” to measure your cholesterol. You may need to change your eating and exercise habits and/or take pills to keep your cholesterol below the target of an LDL cholesterol less than 2.0 mmol/L recommended by Diabetes Canada.
6. Manage your stress levels
Managing diabetes is not always easy. Feeling stressed, sad, or angry is common when you are living with the condition, and long-term stress can raise blood sugar and blood pressure levels. There are lots of ways to lower your stress levels. Find what works for you and practice a stress-lowering activity as often as needed. Some stress-lowering activities include:
- Deep breathing or meditation
- Taking a walk
- Doing yoga or other physical activities
- Listening to your favourite music
7. Take your diabetes medication as prescribed
Taking your diabetes medications exactly as prescribed by your doctor will not only help control your blood sugar, it may also help you prevent heart disease. If you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels, you have likely been prescribed medications to help manage these complications.
In addition, several newer diabetes medications have been shown to not only lower blood sugar levels, but also help protect against heart disease. These drugs belong to 2 classes of medications: sodium-glucose co-transporter 2 (SGLT2) inhibitors and glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) agonists. If you are at risk for heart disease, your diabetes healthcare team may recommend one of these medications.
While people with diabetes have a higher risk of heart disease then those who don’t have the condition, there are a number of ways you can reduce your risk. Following these 7 tips for heart health will help you get started!