If you have diabetes, heart disease can be a serious concern. In fact, cardiovascular disease leading to heart attack or stroke is by far the leading cause of death in both men and women with diabetes, says Dr. Ganda, a board-certified specialist in Internal Medicine, Endocrinology and Metabolism, and Clinical Nutrition, a Senior Physician in the Section on Adult Diabetes at Joslin, and an Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. “The good news is that there are steps to take to reduce your risk for heart disease if you have diabetes,” says Dr. Ganda.
1. Control your weight. One of the most important things you can do if you have diabetes is maintain a healthy weight. If you are overweight, talk to a registered dietitian about healthy ways to lose weight.
2. Get regular physical activity. There is a significant body of research that proves the myriad cardiovascular benefits of regular physical activity (that goes beyond weight loss). Start off slowly, and build a plan that works well for you and meets your needs. The Joslin Diabetes Center offers one-on-one consultations with clinical exercise physiologists that are covered by many insurance providers. These sessions are considered diabetes education not training sessions and can start you on the path toward physical fitness.
3. Don’t smoke. If you already do, make plans to begin a smoking cessation program. “Nicotine narrows and restricts blood vessels; diabetes will also do the same thing to your blood vessels.. You can’t change having diabetes. But you can stop damage caused by nicotine,” says Dr. Ganda.
4. Maintain tight control over glucose. Tight control can prevent many complications from diabetes and also protects your heart. Shoot for an A1C reading of less than 7%.
5. Lower your LDL cholesterol (the “bad” type). Both the American Diabetes Association and the American Heart Association recommend an LDL cholesterol goal of less than 100 mg/dl. Dr. Ganda recommends eating fiber-rich foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Also, he recommends asking your healthcare provider about omega-3 fish oil supplements.
6. Control your blood pressure. All people with diabetes should aim for a blood pressure reading of less than 130/80, advises Dr. Ganda.
7. Consider incorporating aspirin into your daily routine. If you are older than thirty years of age, you may want to speak to your doctor about taking a baby aspirin daily. In addition, taking a multivitamin can be extremely helpful for those with diabetes, says Dr. Ganda.