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Heart-Friendly Lifestyle Tips for People with Diabetes

Heart-Friendly Lifestyle Tips for People with Diabetes : Main Image
Fiber and nutrients in foods like lentils and whole grains are good for more than your digestion—they may also help prevent blood sugar spikes and help protect against heart disease

Diabetes and heart disease are so closely connected that when you manage one well, there may be benefits for the other. That’s because the changes your body experiences due to diabetes take a toll on your heart and blood vessels. In fact, heart attack and stroke are two of the greatest health threats facing people with diabetes. So, what can you do to be proactive about your heart health?

Don’t smoke

Smoking is one of the most important contributors to heart disease risk, and, according to the American Heart Association, one third of deaths from coronary heart disease are due to smoking or secondhand smoke. So if you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you do smoke, there are lots of options available to help you quit, whether it’s via programs or patches, or enlisting the support and encouragement of your family and friends.

Make nutrition a priority

Eating well when you have diabetes means more than just avoiding sugary treats and beverages: it also means adopting an eating pattern that may help protect your heart and improve your blood sugar control.

  • Fruits and vegetables. Many fruits and vegetables are known to contain cardio-protective nutrients like vitamin C and carotenoids, along with minerals like potassium and magnesium that may help lower blood pressure. Bottom line? Fresh fruits and vegetables are the centerpiece of a heart- and diabetes-friendly diet.
  • Nuts and seeds. Nuts and seeds have mono- and polyunsaturated fats, fiber, and vitamins and minerals that, when consumed in moderate amounts—an ounce per day—along with other foods in an overall healthy diet may help keep cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels down.
  • Grains and beans. Fiber and nutrients in foods like lentils, beans, and whole grains are good for more than your digestion—including these foods in your diet may help prevent blood sugar spikes and contribute to heart disease protection.
  • Fish. Cold-water fish like salmon, tuna, and sardines have omega-3 fats and are excellent protein sources with low glycemic loads. Researchers have found eating fish, as part of a healthy diet, reduces the risks of heart attack and stroke.
  • Check with your doctor. For more information on changes you can safely make to your eating plan, consult a doctor, a registered dietitian, or another nutritionally oriented healthcare provider in your area. It is important to note some otherwise healthy foods may be unsafe for you, such as if diabetes has damaged your kidney function.
  • Keep allergies in mind. Remember peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, milk, eggs, soy, shellfish, and fish are all considered major allergens. So, be sure to substitute them with other suitable options if you have an allergy.

Be active

Physical activity is critical for healthy metabolism and a healthy heart. For most of us, getting a daily 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise (such as brisk walking) is a safe and enjoyable way to keep our heart in good shape. In addition, engaging in strength training exercises a couple times each week can improve blood glucose control, overall metabolism, and heart health. If you don’t already exercise, here are some tips to help you get started:

  • Choose an activity you enjoy. If you don’t like it, you won’t do it, at least not for long. Picking an activity you enjoy increases the odds you’ll stick with it over time.
  • Establish a routine. Good habits usually require a dedicated place in our regular routine. Squeezing them in when it’s convenient is unlikely to result in a long-term commitment.
  • Do what you can. If health problems limit your ability to be active, develop an exercise program that makes sense for where you’re at—any amount of physical activity is better than none.
  • Make it social. Sometimes we need a little help from our friends. Set a walking schedule with one or more friends, stick to your plans, and keep it fun. Dogs can also help—once you set a routine, they won’t let you off the exercise hook, even when it’s cold or rainy.
  • Don't sit still. In addition to exercising regularly, interrupting long periods of being sedentary with brief periods of standing or moving every 30 minutes or so adds metabolic and cardiovascular benefits.

Manage stress and sleep well

Although stress and low-quality sleep each appear to contribute to poor blood sugar control and increased risk of cardiovascular disease, stress management and good sleep habits as part of one’s self-care routine are still often overlooked. Relaxation and meditation practices, such as mindfulness, cognitive behavioral strategies, relaxation response training, and biofeedback training can help quiet the stress response.

Good sleep habits include sticking to a set bedtime and rising time, practicing relaxation techniques before bed, avoiding napping, and not drinking alcohol, smoking, or eating heavy meals close to bedtime. In addition, having a comfortable mattress and pillows and keeping your sleeping space cool, dark, and quiet can help promote better sleep. Combined with other healthy lifestyle habits, these stress-reducing and sleep-supportive practices may help you achieve better health overall

(Curr Atheroscler Rep 2014;16:460)

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