Diabetes & cardiovascular health: What’s the connection?

Whether you’ve been managing diabetes all your life or were recently diagnosed, you know that you face a unique set of challenges. Do you also know that you’re at a higher risk of heart disease and stroke?

Let’s take a look at the numbers.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), nearly 70 percent of those 65 or older with diabetes die from heart disease, while 16 percent die from stroke. In comparison with those who don’t have diabetes, people with diabetes are two to four times more likely to have a stroke or heart disease.

So why is that?

Well, there are a couple of reasons behind it. First, high levels of glucose (blood sugar) are a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Those with diabetes inherently have higher blood sugar levels, though they can be mitigated by insulin or medications.

Beyond blood sugar, though, many people with diabetes also have other comorbid conditions or lifestyle factors that place them at higher risk, including:

  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • High low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels
  • Low high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels
  • High triglyceride levels
  • Overweight or obesity
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Smoking
  • Diet high in fat, sugar, sodium and cholesterol

How can I lower my risk?

The healthy lifestyle habits required to effectively manage diabetes already put you on the path to limiting your risk. If you haven’t already, make these four changes to your everyday life:

  1. Don’t smoke. If you do smoke, talk with your doctor about cessation methods, which may include counseling or medications. You can also call 1-800-QUIT-NOW for help quitting.
  2. Eat a healthy diet. Talk with your doctor about your target blood glucose level and what types of foods, particularly what kinds of carbohydrates, will help you maintain that level. In general, fill your plate with fruits and non-starchy vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean proteins. Pay careful attention to the amount of fat (particular trans fats), sodium, sugar and cholesterol are in the foods you eat, and try to limit each.
  3. Get active. A sedentary lifestyle is unhealthy for your blood sugar — and your heart. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise on at least five days of each week (150 or more minutes total) or 25 minutes of vigorous physical activity on at least three days of each week (75 or more minutes total). Pair cardiovascular activities, such as walking, running, biking or swimming, with strength-training activities for best results.
  4. Watch your numbers. The American Diabetes Association recommends that you pay particular attention to your ABCs: A1C, blood pressure and cholesterol. Talk with your doctor about what your target numbers for each of those should be, and have regular checkups to help ensure you’re on track.

For more information on healthy habits for anyone living with diabetes, check out our Living Well workshops. A healthy lifestyle also includes regular checkups. Need a doctor? Find one here.