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Why Your Heart Health Matters if You Live with Diabetes

Did you know you are twice as likely to have a heart attack or stroke as an adult living with type 2 diabetes (T2D) compared to a person without diabetes? Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do to reduce your risk of heart disease or other heart-related complications. Putting more health-focused tasks on your to-do list might feel a little overwhelming on top of diabetes management — but it’s just as important.

The American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association have developed Know Diabetes by Heart, an initiative to raise awareness of the link between diabetes and heart disease, provide resources and support, and help you reduce your risk of heart disease, heart attacks, heart failure, and strokes.

The risk factors for these health problems also increase your risk for chronic kidney disease (CKD).

Here’s what you need to know about protecting your heart health when living with diabetes and some great resources to support you along the way.

This is why T2D increases your risk of heart disease and CKD

T2D increases your risk of both heart disease and CKD. Over time, high blood glucose (blood sugar) levels affect organs in your body, especially your heart and kidneys. In fact, the earliest stages of CKD have no symptoms at all— which is why it’s so important to get routine testing at least once a year through your healthcare team.

Here are some factors that impact your heart and kidney health:

  • High blood glucose (sugar) levels
  • High blood pressure
  • Kidney function
  • Obesity
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Diet high in processed foods
  • Consuming nicotine in any form
  • Consuming more than two alcoholic drinks per day (men) or one per day (women)

The stress of these factors can damage blood vessels and increase inflammation in both your heart and your kidneys. Working with your healthcare team to manage your blood glucose levels and these other factors can make a big difference.

Questions to ask your doctor about T2D & heart disease

Get the conversation started! Here are a handful of questions to ask your doctor at your next appointment:

  • What can I do to lower my risk for heart disease and stroke?
  • Do any of my current medications reduce my risk for heart disease or CKD?
  • Are there any medications I’m not taking yet to reduce my risk of heart disease or CKD?
  • Is there any technology that might help me better manage T2D or heart disease?
  • What does my lab work say about my risk of developing heart disease or CKD?
  • Are there programs that can help me manage T2D or heart disease? Can you give me a referral?

Steps to reduce your risk of heart disease & CKD

Little changes can go a long way. Keep in mind that perfection isn’t necessary — instead, focus on small, ongoing changes around these lifestyle habits:

  • Get moving daily: The recommended 150 minutes per week is only about 20 minutes per day! Just take 20 minutes to walk, dance, lift weights, bicycle, etc. The longer you stick with it, the more likely you are to see positive changes in your blood glucose levels, insulin sensitivity, body weight, energy, and even the quality of your sleep. Every minute is worth it.
  • Eat more: Take a look at what you eat for breakfast, lunch, snacks, and dinner. How many of your choices are processed packaged items? How many are whole foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, meat, cheese, grains, beans, etc.? Start by focusing on one meal or snack of the day and see what changes you can make to increase the whole foods and decrease the processed foods in that meal. Better food choices can make a huge difference.
  • Quit using nicotine products: Within minutes of quitting nicotine, your resting heart rate improves. Within several days, the carbon monoxide levels in your blood return to normal. Within weeks, your sensitivity to insulin will start to improve. The impact of nicotine on your heart and blood glucose levels is Taking steps to quit is worth it.
  • Manage alcohol intake: The American Heart Association recommends no more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. Take a closer look at how much alcohol you’re consuming on a daily and weekly basis. Is it time to cut back? Setting boundaries like “abstain from alcohol Monday through Thursday” can help you limit your alcohol consumption.
  • Manage stress levels: No one can avoid stress altogether, but there might be steps you can take to reduce your stress levels. It might start with simply saying “no” more often when your child’s school asks you to volunteer, setting more boundaries at work, only checking your email inbox between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., or ending a relationship that is causing you more stress than joy. Don’t forget, one of the best things for your mental health can be adding a bit of exercise!
  • Keeping a healthy weight helps lower your risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke: Weight loss can be an overwhelming endeavor. Instead of focusing on the big number you want to lose, keep the goal small and reasonable, with five percent of your body weight. For example, if you weigh 225 pounds, multiply 225 by .05 to equal about 11 pounds. Research has shown that losing just five percent of your body weight can improve insulin production, insulin sensitivity, blood pressure, sleep quality, and more. Just five percent.

FREE resources to support your heart health with T2D

Get support to reduce your risk of heart disease & CKD

Managing type 2 diabetesT2D isn’t easy, but you’re not alone! Connect with others with the same health goals — sign-up for the Know Diabetes By Heart newsletter and take advantage of these great resources!