People & Diabetes - Helping You Live Well
HomeWhat is Diabetes?Do I Have Diabetes?Pre-DiabetesType 1 DiabetesType 2 DiabetesGestational DiabetesDiabetes TreatmentDiabetes DietExercise and DiabetesDiabetes TestingDiabetes MedicationsEmotions and DiabetesDiabetes ComplicationsDiabetes StoreAbout UsContact UsSite Map

How to Reduce Your Risk of Cardiovascular Disease

By Nina Nazor

What is Cardiovascular Disease?

Cardiovascular disease is a group of conditions that affect the heart and/or the blood vessels.

Among the most common cardiovascular problems are:

  • Atherosclerosis
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Arrhythmias
  • Heart failure
  • Hypertension and
  • Peripheral vascular disease

Facts About Cardiovascular Disease

  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death in America today
  • In 2003, 71,300,000 Americans had one or more forms of cardiovascular disease
  • 910,614 men and women died of cardiovascular disease in 2003, while 554,643 died of cancer
  • More than 500,000 US women die of cardiovascular disease every year, exceeding deaths for cancer, accidents, and diabetes combined
  • Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of premature death among people with diabetes
  • It is estimated that 65 percent of people with diabetes die from heart disease or stroke

The Important Role of Prevention

It is vital that we all understand the important role of a healthy and active lifestyle in the prevention of cardiovascular disease, especially in people with diabetes.

The guidelines designed for preventing heart disease include aggressive management of risk factors such as smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity.

In this article you will find the tools to help you make healthy lifestyle changes to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.

Blood Glucose Levels, Cholesterol and Blood Pressure Control

If you have diabetes, your goals for achieving good control must be the following:

  • Blood glucose levels below 120 mg/dL at fasting and below 180 mg/dL (or below 140 mg/dL better if possible) 2 hours after the first bite of a meal.
  • Glycosylated hemoglobin (A1C) below 6.5 percent
  • Blood Pressure below 130/80 mmHg
  • Cholesterol-LDL ("bad cholesterol”) below 100 mg/dL

Take Aspirin

Aspirin therapy (75–162 mg/day) has been recommended to prevent cardiovascular problems in people with and without diabetes. Several studies have demonstrated the efficacy of using aspirin to prevent cardiovascular events such as stroke and myocardial infarction.

Low-dose aspirin therapy should be used as prevention strategy in men and women with diabetes who are at high risk (over age 40 or with other CVD risk factors) for cardiovascular events, but despite its proven efficacy, aspirin therapy is not used enough in people with diabetes.

However, remember that you should always consult with your doctor before starting any therapy.

Read more about Aspirin therapy and diabetes by reading Aspirin Therapy in Diabetes Position Statement. American Diabetes Association. Diabetes Care 27:S72-S73, 2004

If you Smoke, Quit

Smoking - or using any other tobacco products- doubles the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

Your body not only receives about 5,000 different toxic chemicals when you smoke, but smoking damages your blood vessels, which are also affected by high blood glucose levels. Also, each time you smoke your heart rate and blood pressure raise.

However, the good news is that if you quit smoking your risk to develop cardiovascular disease is reduced dramatically, especially after one year.

Exercise Every Day

Exercising improves the function of your cardiovascular system, reduces bad cholesterol (LDL), increases good cholesterol (HDL), helps insulin work better, helps you control your weight, reduces your stress levels an raises your general sense of well-being.

You should aim to do any aerobic exercise you enjoy for 30 to 60 minutes a day most days of the week.

Eat a Healthy Diet

A balanced and healthy diet, low in processed carbs, with good fats, fresh veggies and lean protein like fish or skinless chicken, will help you not only to control glucose levels but to lower your risk of cardiovascular disease or other chronic diseases. Some tips to help you are the following:

  • Two or three times a week you should eat fatty fish such as salmon, sardines or trout, which have a high content of Omega 3 fatty acids that help reduce the risk of heart disease.
  • Once a week eat red meat, and the other days eat poultry, fish or vegetable protein like tofu and beans. This way you will give your body less cholesterol, saturated and trans fats and more healthy fats as well as high quality protein.
  • Eat at least 3 cups of fresh vegetables and 2 portions of fruits daily.
  • Take one or two portions of fat-free or low-fat dairy products daily.
  • To find out how many calories you need daily and how much you should eat of each group of foods, Design Your Own Diet Plan.
  • Learn What you Must Know About Carbs.
  • Learn to use the The Exchange System for Meal Planning to count carbs easily with the Carb Counting and Food Exchanges Photo Gallery.
  • Find out How to Read Food Labels
  • Drink alcohol in moderation and find out about Alcohol and Diabetes

Maintain a Healthy Weight

What is a healthy weight? To find out use the Body Mass Index calculator. The body mass index will let you know if you have a healthy weight, if you are below your healthy weight or if you are overweight.

If you need to lose some weight, you should know that just by losing 10% of your body weight you can help reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease and improve diabetes control. Small amounts of weight reduction can decrease the amount of medication you need to keep your blood sugar in the healthy range, and will make you feel better and look better. You can do it!

To help you, here are some good resources:

Get Regular Checkups

Periodic testing will help you detect any early signs of cardiovascular disease.

You must have an electrocardiogram, cholesterol and blood pressure tests as well as the measurement of albumin in urine.

If you have an abnormal electrocardiogram your doctor might want you to have a cardiac stress test.

Learn more about your Diabetes regular checkups and the Diabetes Yearly Planner

Manage Your Stress

Some studies have reported that chronic emotional stress may be associated with heart disease and early death.

If you have diabetes stress levels in your daily life can affect your health and even increase blood glucose levels, blood pressure and alter many other processes in our bodies. Therefore you must try to include stress management techniques in your daily routine to help you live healthier.

Find out How to Reduce the Stress in Your Life

Source: Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes Position Statement. American Diabetes Association. Diabetes Care 29:S4-S42, 2006