Lifestyle choices, including eating a healthy diet and regular physical activity, are important for maintaining a healthy heart. For people with diabetes, these lifestyle choices are even more important to remain healthy and reduce the risk of heart disease, a major complication of diabetes.
The Link Between Diabetes and Heart Disease
It has long been known that high cholesterol is a major risk factor for developing heart disease. What many don't know is that people with diabetes may be at a higher risk for developing high blood pressure and lipid abnormalities (high cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood), which in turn puts them at greater risk of heart disease. While people with diabetes can't necessarily change the fact that they have diabetes, they can still do plenty to reduce the risk factors associated with heart disease.
"There are several things you can do to enhance your heart health," says Donna Lillie, National Director, Research and Professional Education, Canadian Diabetes Association. "Staying physically active, quitting smoking, eating a healthy balanced diet, good control of blood sugar and blood pressure levels, as well as visiting your doctor regularly for check-ups are just some simple ways."
Diabetes is only one risk factor for heart disease. The modifiable risk factors that influence your risk of heart disease include:
- Elevated lipids (blood fats) - cholesterol and triglycerides
- High blood pressure
- Being physically inactive
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The more you do to reduce your risk factors the more you can help reduce your risk for heart disease.
Tips to Take Care of Your Heart
The best defense against heart disease is prevention. If you have diabetes, work with your health care team on the following:
- Keep your blood sugar as close to target levels as possible. High levels of blood sugar damage the small and large blood vessels over time and may cause serious complications.
- Quit smoking. Smoking narrows blood vessels over time. It can also increase the levels of bad cholesterol in your blood.
- Work to keep your blood pressure under control.
- Keep your cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the target range set by your doctor. High cholesterol may damage your blood vessels and can lead to heart disease. If you cannot lower your cholesterol level by lifestyle changes alone, your doctor may prescribe a cholesterol-lowering medication.
- Regular daily exercise, such as walking or swimming, and which uses your heart, lungs, and large muscles, can improve your cholesterol levels and your overall cardiovascular fitness.