If you have diabetes, you can take steps to prevent heart attacks and strokes. And there's good reason to: With diabetes, you're at least twice as likely to have a stroke or heart attack. Lifestyle changes can make a big difference. In people under age 75, a quarter of deaths from heart disease and stroke -- about 200,000 a year -- could be prevented. Here are six ways to protect yourself.
1. Get Moving
Physical activity strengthens your heart, lowers your blood pressure, burns calories, and improves your blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Together, this adds up to strong protection. And you don't have to join a gym to get active -- unless you want to, of course. A brisk 30-minute walk at least five days a week lowers your chances of heart disease and stroke. If 30 minutes seems like too much, start with less and build up slowly. The key is to walk at a brisk pace.
Tip: Consider buying a pedometer (step counter). You can use it to track how many steps you take a day. It can motivate you to be more active.
2. Choose Heart-Healthy Fats
The kinds of fats in the foods you eat affect the cholesterol in your bloodstream. Skip processed snacks and sweets, fried foods, whole milk and cheese, solid fats like butter, and fatty red meats. They have saturated and trans fats, which are not good for your heart. Instead, pick unsaturated fats. They come mainly from plants, like vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds. They are thought of as "good" fats because they improve your cholesterol levels, which is good for your heart. Omega-3 fats are also heart healthy. They help keep your arteries from clogging. So try to eat non-fried fish at least twice a week. Pick fatty fishes like salmon, albacore tuna, sardines, rainbow trout, and mackerel to boost your omega-3s. Soybean products, walnuts, flaxseed, and canola oil are other good sources of omega-3s.
Tip: For the best heart benefits, go out with the "bad" fats and in with the "good" at the same time. Order grilled salmon or trout instead of a burger or ribs. Use vegetable, olive, or canola oil instead of butter when cooking. Put a little avocado on your sandwich instead of cheese.
3. Fill Up on Whole Grains, Fruits, and Vegetables
Whole grains, fruits, and vegetables are high in fiber and low in calories. That makes them ideal foods for staying at a healthy weight. A 2009 study found that people cut their risk of heart disease by 81% and their risk of stroke by 50% if they kept their weight down, exercised 3.5 hours or more a week, didn't smoke, and helped themselves to lots of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. And a large 2011 study showed that Swedish women who ate a lot of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables cut their risk of stroke by 17%. Citrus fruits and dark orange, red, yellow, and green vegetables and fruits are good sources of antioxidants.
Tip: Set a goal of filling half of your plate with fruit and vegetables.