Regular exercise is one helpful way to prevent heart disease.
Heart disease prevention should be a consideration for every adult, but if you have diabetes, you'll want to pay extra attention to your ticker. While it's still very preventable, diabetes can make you between two and four times more likely to die from heart disease.
High blood glucose (sugar) levels may damage blood vessels over time, which means people who have had diabetes for years — especially if it hasn't been well-managed — can be at higher risk for developing heart problems. Many people who have type 2 diabetes may also have other heart disease risk factors, like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and excess weight.
That said, heart disease is not inevitable. Whether you've been recently diagnosed with diabetes or have had it for a while, there are plenty of things you can do starting right now to reduce your risk of heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular problems. Here are some key heart disease prevention steps everyone with diabetes ought to take:
Keep Close Tabs on Blood Sugar
One of the best ways to make sure diabetes doesn't harm your heart is to manage your blood sugar levels. Ask your doctor how often you should test your blood sugar at home, and talk to your doctor or your Rite Aid Pharmacist if you're unsure about what test kit is best for you or if you need guidance about how to use it properly.
Experts recommend that people with diabetes have an A1C test at least twice a year; more often if you are not meeting your treatment goals. This lab test will give you and your doctor a better idea of what your blood sugar levels have been over the past three months. A high A1C result may mean you have a greater risk of heart disease, as well as other diabetes complications like kidney disease, foot problems, and vision issues.
Take Your Medications as Directed
Be sure to follow the proper dosage and timing instructions for any prescribed medication, whether it's for diabetes or a different health condition, as well as for over-the-counter medications like baby aspirin that your doctor might have recommended. Some medications designed to help with blood sugar, lower cholesterol, or lower blood pressure may cause side effects, but you shouldn't stop taking them without first consulting your doctor. Your Rite Aid Pharmacist can also answer any questions you may have about side effects and how to minimize them.
Physical activity can be good for your heart, your waistline, and your blood sugar levels. The American Diabetes Association recommends getting at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity at least five days a week. But, before you start, check with your physician before beginning a new exercise program and be prepared to test more often as you exercise. If you're prone to low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), make sure to test your levels before you get moving and after the exercise to understand how different activities affect your blood sugar. And remember to always carry a form of quick-acting glucose like hard candies, juice, or glucose tablets with you while exercising to combat low blood sugar.
Eat a Healthy, Well-balanced Diet
While people with diabetes can eat most foods in moderation, the general rule is to aim for lots of produce, plenty of whole grains, some lean protein, and not too much refined sugar. You should also be aware of excess salt—packaged foods like frozen dinners and jarred sauces often pack a surprising amount of sodium. Get in the habit of reading labels and try to eat mostly fresh, whole foods.
If you're a smoker, quitting can provide significant benefits to your heart health. When you inhale tobacco smoke, your blood vessels constrict and your heart has to work harder to pump blood through them. Quitting may lower your risk for heart disease and stroke and reduce your risk of other diabetes complications like kidney disease, eye disease, and nerve damage. Ask your doctor if a nicotine replacement product might help make the transition easier or consider taking part in Rite Aid's "Quit for You" program to help transition to a smoke-free lifestyle..
Know the Warning Signs
Heart attack and stroke can happen to anyone, but when the risk is higher it's a good idea to be extra prepared. If you have severe chest pain, shortness of breath, or sweating and nausea that strikes suddenly, you might be having a heart attack and you should call 911 right away.
Stroke symptoms include weakness or numbness on one side of your body, sudden feelings of confusion or inability to speak properly, vision disturbances, extreme dizziness, and a severe headache that strikes abruptly. When in doubt, call 911.
Heart disease is a serious condition, but even if you're managing diabetes, there are plenty of simple ways to keep your heart in good health. For more ways to stay healthy with diabetes, visit Rite Aid's Diabetes Solution Center.
By Barbara Brody
American Heart Association, Cardiovascular Disease and Diabetes
American Heart Association, The Diabetic Diet
American Heart Association, Fitness: What We Recommend
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, Diabetes, Heart Disease, and Stroke