Safeguarding your heart while managing diabetes

Did you know that diabetes and cardiovascular disease are related? Managing one can help you reduce the risk of the other.

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The relationship between heart health and diabetes is pivotal. These two conditions, each impactful in their own, are intricately linked in ways that affect millions.

Research shows people with diabetes are twice as likely to develop some form of heart disease in their lifetime.

Elevated blood glucose levels due to diabetes can cause damage or narrowing of blood vessels and nerves that regulate heart function. Over time, this could lead to stoppage of blood flow to the heart or brain causing a heart attack or stroke. The good news is the steps you take for managing diabetes can also help lower your cardiovascular disease risk.

For effective diabetes management, regular monitoring of glucose levels is vital. This can be done using tools like continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) devices, which give you glucose level insights without finger pricking. Such devices have useful metrics like Time in Range (TIR), which indicates the amount of time in a day that your glucose levels stay within a specified range.

When a person spends more time in range, their risk of developing cardiovascular disease markers is reduced. In fact, a 10 per cent increase in TIR can reduce the risk of abnormal thickness of one’s carotid arteries by 6.4 per cent. Therefore, achieving a greater TIR is important to keep cardiovascular disease at bay.

Sunil Bohra of Fortis Hospital Bangalore, said, “In India, many people living with diabetes are reporting heart-related complications. It is also extremely concerning that the rise of these complications is being observed across younger demographics.”

“Poorly managed diabetes can lead to rise in cardiovascular disease risk factors like high blood pressure, bad cholesterol, and high triglycerides. Therefore, it is extremely important for people to take extra care and follow preventative steps to avoid glucose fluctuations. Embracing a heart healthy diet, consistent exercise, and regular glucose monitoring devices like CGM, are few of the vital measures one can adopt.”

Here are five simple steps people living with diabetes can take to keep an eye on their health:

Have a heart-healthy diet

Try to limit your sodium intake, and avoid saturated and trans fats that can increase cholesterol levels. For instance, saturated fats are commonly found in foods like butter, red meat, and full-fat dairy products, while trans fats are often present in partially hydrogenated oils used in fried and processed foods.

Finding a healthy meal plan that works for you can help improve your health. You can do that by opting for a meal plan rich in lean proteins, whole grains, colourful vegetables, and healthy fats like nuts and seeds.

Regular exercise

To lower the risk of heart disease, it’s advisable to address factors such as obesity, hypertension, and high cholesterol levels through exercise. Regular physical activity also helps with managing diabetes better. For a healthy lifestyle, it’s recommended to minimise sitting time and engage in at least half an hour of moderate to high intensity physical activity every week, such as brisk walking or cycling. 

Regularly monitor blood sugar levels:

Real-time tracking, such as through CGM tools like FreeStyle Libre, can help you keep an eye on any blood sugar highs or lows. It’s important to strive to stay within the optimal glucose range (70 – 180 mg/dl) for at least 17 hours out of the day. By doing this, you can effectively control your diabetes and heart disease risk.

Say no to smoking and drinking

Smoking can damage the lining of your blood vessels which in turn accelerates the narrowing of your arteries caused by diabetes. This increases your risk of heart disease. If you have diabetes and also smoke, this risk of heart health effects increases further – making it important to quit smoking.

You should also lower your alcohol intake as it can disrupt the effect of your diabetes medication and affect your blood sugar levels. Excessive drinking can also increase one’s blood pressure, weaken heart muscles, and amplify the risk of certain heart diseases. You can work out an alcohol limit with your doctor.

Stress management

When you are stressed, your body produces stress hormones that boost your blood sugar levels and can cause insulin resistance. Over time, this can raise your blood pressure and increase your chances of developing heart disease.

To ease your stress, try engaging in fun activities like listening to music, yoga or dance. Additionally, spending time with loved ones or discussing what you are going through with a professional could ease stress levels.

In addition to these tips, people with diabetes should remain alert to any concerning trends of hyperglycemia or hypoglycemia and take care to address these immediately. You should also consult your doctor about other steps you should take to improve your diabetes management and protect your heart health.

By making healthy lifestyle choices, you can benefit from better health outcomes and enjoy a higher quality of life.

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