More than 30 million Americans have diabetes, and though most people don’t know this, diabetes raises the risk for heart disease a lot. People with diabetes are 2 to 4 times more likely to die from heart disease than those who don’t have diabetes.
But a diabetes diagnosis doesn’t have to be a death sentence. It can be a wake-up call to improve your health and heart.
A new study in JAMA Cardiology of more than 111,000 people showed just how powerful healthy habits can be. The researchers asked people who were in the study about 7 factors that the American Heart Association recommends to help predict and protect heart health. Called Life’s Simple 7, these ideal heart factors include
- Not smoking in the previous year
- Normal body-mass index (BMI): 18.5-25 (based on weight and height)
- Exercising at least 30 minutes a day, 5 times a week
- Eating 4 to 5 cups of fruits and vegetables each day
- Total cholesterol under 200 mg/dL
- Blood pressure under 120 mmHg/80 mmHg
- Fasting blood sugar under 100 mg/dL
The researchers counted up the number of heart-healthy habits and good results on screenings like blood pressure and cholesterol for each person in the study. Then they looked at patients’ medical records to see if these factors made a difference in their health. They did!
The study showed that having 5 of these 7 factors greatly reduced the risk for heart attacks, strokes, and heart failure in people with elevated blood sugar levels or prediabetes (a condition that often leads to diabetes) and diabetes.
People with diabetes and none or 1 of the Life’s Simple 7 had twice the risk for heart problems as those without diabetes. But people with diabetes and 5 of these ideal heart factors had a risk that was very similar to people without diabetes.
People with prediabetes and just 1 or none of the 7 factors had higher heart risks than with people without prediabetes. But people with prediabetes and 5 of the ideal heart factors reduced their heart risk by about half.
Preventing Heart Problems
Whether or not you have diabetes or an elevated blood sugar level, you can work on these 7 factors to bring down your own heart risk by taking these steps. They can help you lower your weight, blood pressure, fasting blood sugar, cholesterol and the number of cigarettes smoked each day.
Try to fill your plate up mostly with plant foods: fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. Be sure to get at least 4 servings (more is better) of fruits and vegetables every day. Choose lean protein like poultry and fish. And limit red meat, whole dairy products, white flour, processed sweets and snacks, and added sugar and salt. If you need to lose some weight, join the “lean plate club” and leave some food on your plate at every meal. It’s better to “waste” some food than to put it on your “waist”!
Just 30 minutes of exercise 5 days a week helps your heart. Take a walk with a friend. Play ball with your kids. Or join a pool and swim laps or tread water to get your heart rate up. If time is a limiting factor, try 10 minutes 3 times a day to get your 30 minutes done.
Your heart starts to recover from the harms of cigarette smoking almost as soon as you kick the habit. And it just gets better from there. For help, call the toll-free number 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1.800.784.8669). Smoking 5 fewer cigarettes a day reduces heart attack risk and for every 5 fewer cigarettes a day that you smoke, it goes down even more!
Ongoing tension can increase your heart risks by releasing high levels of stress hormones. Calm your mind with yoga, meditation, and mindfulness. One quick trick: try breathing deeply for several minutes, letting your belly rise when you breathe in and fall when you breathe out.
With a little extra effort and self-care, you can avoid the worst consequences of diabetes and help to keep your heart in top shape!