Your blood sugar numbers are not the only thing you should think about if you have diabetes. That's because cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the number one cause of death for those living with Type 2 diabetes.
CVD is an "umbrella disease" associated with diabetes that can cause multiple heart- and stroke-related incidents and fatalities, including arrhythmias, congestive heart failure, heart valve problems, cardiac arrest, heart attack, ischemic or hemorrhagic stroke.
People with diabetes are twice as likely to suffer from heart disease or a stroke than people without diabetes. Fortunately, you can minimize the risks by embracing three lifestyle practices.
Here's what you need to know to keep your heart in good shape if you have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes.
#1: Eat a heart-healthy diet
Diabetics are more likely to suffer from heart disease because the contributing factors of both conditions are interconnected. Arterial walls, for example, are damaged by high blood sugar levels as well as high blood pressure and elevated levels of unhealthy cholesterol. The good news for diabetics is that controlling blood sugar levels is a great starting point to reduce or avoid arterial stiffening and damage.
Control blood sugar levels
Your provider will help determine whether you should control your condition with medication and diet or diet alone by measuring blood sugar levels and the results of your A1C test, which tracks your blood sugar levels over 3 months. What and how much you choose to eat is your primary weapon in an arsenal of good habits that treat and help prevent other related conditions.
Lower high blood pressure by tracking your sodium
Also known as hypertension, high blood pressure puts you at risk for heart attack, stroke, eye problems and kidney disease. While genetic factors affect hypertension, and diet alone is often not enough to control it, you can help lower blood pressure by monitoring how much sodium you eat. Keep your sodium levels below 2300 milligrams a day (or lower if you already have hypertension) by reading labels on food packaging, choosing to cook or eat lower sodium foods and avoiding processed meals. Check out this resource on high sodium foods and substitutes.
Choose foods that help lower cholesterol and triglycerides
It's no secret that high cholesterol—fat produced by your liver and found in your blood—is linked to heart disease. HDL is the "good" kind of cholesterol, and LDL is the "bad" cholesterol. HDL helps to remove LDL from clogging your blood vessels. High levels of LDL and triglycerides, fats in your blood, contribute to heart disease. Eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low or nonfat dairy, fish, skinless poultry and lean meats can reduce both. Avoid baked goods and fried foods.
Limit your food intake
Being overweight or obese contribute to both diabetes and heart disease. If you are overweight, losing just 5 percent of body weight can significantly affect your body's insulin and blood sugar management.
While choosing to eat healthy foods can help, resisting the urge to overeat is one of the most significant factors in attaining and maintaining a healthy weight. Learn to eat and eat by portion sizes, know how many daily calories it takes to maintain your current weight and reduce those by 500 a day if you need to lose weight.
#2: Move toward better health with exercise
If there were ever a magic pill, exercise comes close because it helps to improve almost every condition related to diabetes and heart disease. Exercise helps your body manage blood sugar and insulin levels, can lower your blood pressure, lowers triglycerides and raises HDL, your "good" cholesterol. It also helps reduce body weight when combined with calorie reduction.
If you are not active, you should talk to your provider about how to begin gradually.
The fact is that you will gain health benefits with as little as 60 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise like brisk walking or bike riding will produce. Gradually work up to an average of 30 minutes a day of aerobic exercise. Two days a week, try cutting aerobic exercise down to least 10 minutes and incorporate some form of strength training. Check out this resource on how to begin.
#3: Manage your disease with your provider
Not every condition can be controlled in just one way. Some people can manage blood sugar levels with diet and exercise alone. Others need to combine healthy habits with medication. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Your provider can help you look at the big picture and put together a plan that's right for you.
If you are struggling to manage your diabetes or are looking for ways to keep yourself heart-healthy after a diabetes diagnosis, consider visiting your local CareNow®.
We've got more than 150 locations throughout the United States, so we're ready to care for you and your family when and where you need it.
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