Got Diabetes? Get Heart Smart

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on January 02, 2018
From the WebMD Archives

If you have type 2 diabetes, it's time to get serious about taking care of your ticker. A healthy lifestyle, and medicine if you need it, will help lower your chances of getting heart disease.

The connection between heart disease and diabetes is strong for two main reasons, says Stacey Rosen, MD, a cardiologist at Northwell Health in New Hyde Park, NY. For starters, long-term high blood sugar harms blood vessels and speeds up atherosclerosis -- the hardening and narrowing of blood vessels.

"Blood vessel damage is what leads to complications of diabetes, such as blindness and kidney failure, as well as heart disease," she says.

The second issue is that many of the things that raise your odds of having type 2 diabetes and heart disease overlap. Your chances of getting both conditions go up if you:

  • Are overweight
  • Have high blood pressure
  • Have low HDL "good" cholesterol
  • Don't get enough exercise


Tipping the Scales in Your Favor

You can help protect your heart if you lose weight, if you need to, and keep a healthy body mass index. Even shedding 10 pounds can make a big difference in managing your blood sugar levels and cutting your chances of getting heart disease.

Rosen suggests you work with a nutritionist or certified diabetes educator to help you come up with meal plans that are tailored to your needs.

Exercise is also important to help you control your diabetes and keep your heart healthy. The American Heart Association says you should get at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity -- the kind that gets your heart pumping. You should also do strength training at least twice a week.

That might sound like a lot, but remember that smaller amounts of exercise can add up over the course of the day or week, Rosen says.

"You don't have to do everything perfectly. Anything you do right counts," she says. A 15-minute walk after lunch is a great start. So is lifting "weights" using soda bottles or cans of veggies.

Your doctor may prescribe a statin, a type of medication designed to lower cholesterol. Most people with diabetes benefit from these drugs even if their cholesterol levels seem OK, Rosen says. That's because the diabetes-heart disease connection is strong, and statins do more than just lower LDL "bad" cholesterol levels. They also make it less likely for plaque in your blood vessels to break off and lead to a heart attack or stroke. Your doctor can help you weigh the risks and benefits.

Some questions you can ask at your next appointment:

  • What are my chances of getting heart disease?
  • What cardiovascular screening tests do I need?
  • Do I need to take a statin?
  • Is my blood sugar well-controlled?
  • What signs might mean I'm having a heart attack?


Show Sources


American Heart Association: "American Heart Association Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults," "Cardiovascular Disease and Diabetes." "Diabetes and Heart Disease."

Stacey Rosen, MD, cardiologist, Northwell Health, New York; vice president of women's health, Katz Institute for Women's Health, Northwell Health.

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