7 Tips for Type 2 Diabetics to Lower Their Risk of Heart Disease

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Evelyn Creekmore on February 4, 2021
  • Smiling Black man
    Diabetes raises your risk of heart disease. You can help lower it.
    Simply having diabetes increases your risk of heart disease, including heart attack, heart failure, and atherosclerosis (plaque build-up in the arteries). For those with type 2 diabetes, the risk of having a heart attack is elevated to the same level as those who have already had a heart attack. Heart disease also tends to be more severe and less responsive to some treatments when you have diabetes. Awareness of risk is the first step to reducing it.
  • woman-checking-blood-sugar-levels-in-kitchen
    1. Keep your blood sugar in check.
    The American Heart Association deems diabetes one of seven major risk factors of heart disease, along with high blood pressure (hypertension) and high cholesterol. Those with diabetes are more likely to have these risk factors, too. The factors are connected, and the more you have, the greater your risk. High blood glucose alone can damage the blood vessels your heart depends on. But good control of your blood sugar can improve your heart function at the same time. Take your diabetes medications as prescribed by your doctor and reach out to him or her if you’re having any trouble keeping up with your treatment plan.
  • washing-carrots-in-kitchen-sink
    2. Adopt a heart-healthy diet.
    Many of the building blocks of a heart-healthy diet are similar to a diabetes-friendly diet. Choose a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and proteins such as lean meats and nuts. Avoid salt, added sugar, and saturated and trans fats. The American Diabetes Association “plate method” can help simplify. Fill half a plate with non-starch vegetables such as spinach and carrots. Fill one quarter with protein such as fish or pork. Fill one quarter with whole grains.
  • middle-aged-man-walking-dog
    3. Get physically active.
    Physical activity not only helps reduce your risk of heart disease, it also helps the insulin in your body work better and reduce your blood sugar level, a goal you already have for managing your type 2 diabetes. The recommended amount of exercise for adults is two and a half hours of moderately intense activity every week. You don’t have to do it all at once. Exercising 10 minutes at a time throughout the week is just as effective.
  • Woman on scale
    4. Maintain a healthy weight.
    To maintain a healthy weight, you may not need to do anything more than adopt a heart-healthy diet and a regular exercise routine. If that’s not the case for you, talk with your doctor about additional tactics. If you’re overweight, weight loss can decrease your risk of heart disease and increase your insulin sensitivity. Obesity, in particular, has been associated with both insulin resistance and the heart disease risk factor of high blood pressure.
  • Caregiver taking blood pressure of older man in wheelchair
    5. Manage your cholesterol and blood pressure.
    Because diabetes elevates your heart disease risk, doctors often recommend diabetics take medication for high cholesterol and blood pressure earlier than they’d recommend the same medications to people without diabetes. Statins such as atorvastatin (Lipitor) may be prescribed to lower cholesterol. Cholestyramine (Questran, Prevalite) is another option that’s been shown to lower cholesterol and blood sugar simultaneously. Common blood pressure medications include diuretics (water pills) to flush out fluid and sodium, and angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors to help prevent narrowing of blood vessels.
  • No Smoking Sign
    6. Stop smoking.
    Smoking increases your risk of heart disease because it damages your blood vessels. It’s considered the most preventable risk factor of heart disease, but if you’re a smoker, quitting can seem far easier said than done. Fortunately, “cold turkey” is no longer the only option. Ask your doctor for guidance for nicotine replacement therapy and information about support groups in your community and online. It’s a good idea to avoid second-hand smoke, as well.
  • African American man meditating and listening to music in bedroom
    7. Reduce stress.
    Sadness, anger, and other strong emotions come with the challenges of managing diabetes. Physical signs of stress vary from person to person, but can include digestive problems, sleeplessness, and headaches. Left unchecked, long-term stress can raise your blood glucose levels and your blood pressure. Talk with your doctor about new ideas for handling your stress. Some people benefit from meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises, and some find relief through relaxing activities such as walking, gardening, or listening to music.
Staying Heart Healthy With Type 2 Diabetes | Living With Diabetes

About The Author

Evelyn Creekmore has more than 15 years of experience writing online educational health content, including nearly 10 years full-time at WebMD, where she was the director of brand content. She holds an MPH in Applied Public Health Informatics from Emory University Rollins School of Public Health and an MA from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
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  7. 5 Things You Should Know About Stress. National Institute of Mental Health. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/stress/index.shtml
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Last Review Date: 2021 Feb 4
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