By: Laurie Edwards for Diabetes1
Of all the major long-term complications having diabetes poses, cardiovascular disease is both the most serious and the most common. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 65 percent of all diabetes-related deaths are caused by heart attack and stroke. If that number seems daunting to you, keep in mind that there several ways to effectively reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Tips for a Healthy Heart
Manage medications. If diet and exercise alone do not lower your cholesterol or blood pressure, consult with your physician about which of the many medications available would work for you.
Keep communicating. Before you make any significant changes to your diet or exercise regimen make sure you talk to your doctor, especially if you are on medication.
Be proactive. Certainly the risks are serious, but integrating regular blood tests, healthy eating and lots of physical activity are ways you can stop damage before it starts.
How Diabetes Affects Your Cardiovascular System
Diabetes can damage blood vessels in several places in your body, including those that carry blood to the heart and brain. When this happens, it allows plaque (fatty deposits) to accumulate in your arteries more easily, a condition known as atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis can cut off the necessary blood supply, sometimes resulting in heart attack or stroke.
Most times, people who are having a heart attack experience symptoms like chest pain, pounding heartbeat or jaw or arm pain that signal something is very wrong. If you have diabetes, you are less likely to feel these symptoms and more prone to “silent” heart attacks – that’s why it is so important to keep a watchful eye over the symptoms of cardiovascular disease you can manage.
Know Your ABCs
The first step in reducing your risk is prevention. To make this easy, the American Diabetes Association recommends keeping track of your “ABCs:” your A1C level, your blood pressure and your cholesterol.
Your A1C is your average blood glucose reading over two to three months. It is a good measure of your ability to maintain tight control over your blood sugar, and good control over sugar means less damage to blood vessels.
Since high blood pressure is an indication your heart is working too hard, keeping a close watch over your readings is an important tool in preventing cardiovascular events.
Your cholesterol is a measure of the amount of fat in your blood. While HDL, or “good” cholesterol, helps protect the heart, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides can clog your arteries, increasing your chances of a cardiovascular event.
Heart-Healthy Lifestyle Choices
Monitoring these numbers is only one step. Choosing appropriate foods and getting enough exercise are also concrete things you can do to impact your numbers and your overall cardiovascular health. In general, the fundamentals of a heart-healthy diet include the following:
- Consuming limited saturated fats found in things like butter and cheese, fatty meats, shortening and palm and coconut oils
- Using monounsaturated fats like olive or canola oils when cooking
- Choosing lean proteins like chicken and fish and discarding the skin
- Eating five servings of fruits and vegetables a day
- Reducing salt and sodium intake
- Selecting high-fiber foods like kidney beans and whole grains
Regular exercise also has many benefits. Obesity increases your risk of cardiovascular disease, and combined with proper nutrition, exercise is a critical component of weight loss. If you want to maintain your current body weight, exercise is an important tool. It helps with circulation and energy and can help boost metabolism, which slows down with age.