If you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes, you probably thought that was your most serious medical concern.
But the reality is that diabetes is actually a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
Adults who have been diagnosed with diabetes are nearly twice as likely to suffer from a heart attack or stroke than those who don’t have the disease, according to the American Diabetes Association.
Fortunately, there are things you can do, such as exercising regularly and eating healthy, to help minimize your risk.
Here’s what you need to know about keeping your heart in good shape if you have either type 1 or type 2 diabetes.
Know the Facts
There are number of reasons those with diabetes are more likely to suffer from heart disease, including the fact that they typically have stiffened arterials walls due to high blood sugar levels, unhealthy cholesterol levels and high blood pressure.
Fortunately, good control of diabetes can help reduce this risk. High blood sugar levels for a long period of time can increase your chances of heart attack or stroke.
It may take some time to find what foods and medications work best for your body, but you can work with your doctor to help determine what the right treatment plan is for you.
In addition to knowing the goal for your blood sugar levels and your A1C, it is important to also have a target number for blood pressure and cholesterol.
Aim for your blood pressure to stay below 130/80 mmHg and your total cholesterol should remain below 200 mg/dL.
Keep Your Weight Under Control
Many people who have been diagnosed with diabetes—specifically type II—are also overweight or obese and do not exercise regularly, which can also attribute to a heightened risk of heart disease.
Getting back to a healthy weight can help you control your diabetes and improve your heart health.
In fact, by losing just 5 percent of body weight, you will allow your body to more easily use insulin and manage blood sugar.
If you are overweight or obese, talk to your doctor about what you can do to get back to a healthy weight.
Manage High Blood Pressure
The force of blood flow inside your arteries is known as blood pressure—a key factor in heart health.
If your blood pressure is high, it means your blood is exerting too much force on the vessels, forcing your heart to work harder than it should.
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, puts you at a higher risk for heart attack, stroke, eye problems and kidney disease.
When you get your blood pressure checked, your doctor will check two numbers: Your systolic and diastolic pressure.
If your blood pressure reads 120/80, the 120 is considered your systolic pressure (which is the pressure your blood exerts as it goes through your blood vessels) and the 80 is your diastolic pressure (or the pressure between heartbeats when the vessels relax).
If you find that you’re not able to keep your blood pressure at a healthy number on your own, your doctor may recommend medication.
The most common medications prescribed to help manage high blood pressure are ACE inhibitors, ARBs, calcium channel blockers and diuretics.
Lower Your Cholesterol
It’s no secret that high cholesterol—fat produced by your liver that is found in your blood—is linked to heart disease.
However, it is important to distinguish the difference between “good” cholesterol and “bad” cholesterol.
High-density lipoproteins, which are commonly referred to as good cholesterol, can actually help remove the LDL from your blood vessels.
On the other hand, low-density lipoproteins, aka bad cholesterol, can build up inside your blood vessels, causing them to clog.
It is recommended that you make lifestyle changes to help lower your cholesterol; however, in some cases, that is not enough.
If your doctor feels it is needed, he or she may suggest a statin to help bring down your LDL levels. This is specifically recommended for anyone over the age of 40 or for someone who’s been diagnosed with heart disease.
Don’t Forget Diet and Exercise
It should go without saying that eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise is the best way to keep your ticker at optimal health.
The best diet to protect your heart while keeping your blood sugar under control is one that is both low in fat and salt and high in lean proteins like fish, vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans.
Consider incorporating legumes (i.e. lentils, chickpeas and beans) into your diet regularly as well since it’s been shown to keep A1C measurements and lower blood pressure.
Your doctor may recommend working with a dietician who can help you create a diet plan that you feel comfortable with.
In addition to a healthy diet, physical activity is important to help your body process insulin while strengthening your heart at the same time.
Try to incorporate both strength training and cardiovascular exercise, aiming for at least 30 minutes most days of the week.
Should You Take Aspirin to Help with Heart Disease?
Many people are also under the impression that taking aspirin regularly can help to maintain a healthy heart.
However, it’s important to talk to your doctor before you begin an aspirin regimen since there are some risks involved, including a risk of bleeding.
Typically, aspirin is recommended for anyone with diabetes over 50 years of age or for someone with a family history of heart disease, high blood pressure, chronic kidney disease or who is a smoker.
Remember, although having diabetes does put you at a higher risk of heart disease, managing your condition properly can help decrease it.
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 100 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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Disclaimer: Patients’ health can vary. Always consult with a medical professional before taking medication, making health-related decisions or deciding if medical advice is right for you.