Living with diabetes – Looking after your heart

What can I do to keep my heart and circulation healthy?

The most important things you can do are to stay or become active, eat healthily, and stop smoking and lose weight if you need to. Also, take any prescribed treatment to help keep your blood glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels within healthy limits.

I’ve had so much advice about what to eat – what are the most important things to remember?

Eating healthy types of fats, for example, monounsaturated fat rather than saturated fat, and limiting your overall fat intake will help protect your heart. High-calorie foods can cause weigh gain, which in turn will increase your risk of heart disease, so trying to keep your calorie intake within the recommended limits will help. If you have high blood pressure, keep the amount of salt you eat to a minimum. Foods that are rich in fiber and antioxidants, such as fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, can provide some protection against heart disease.

What sort of exercise will help reduce my risk of heart disease?

Any aerobic activities – these that increase your heart rate and make you feel warm and slightly out of breath – such as walking, swimming, or digging the garden, are all good for your heart. If you already have a heart problem, physical activity is likely to improve your health, but your health professional can help you decide which activities will most benefit you.

What help can I get to stop smoking?

Your doctor can help you find local programs to help you stop smoking. Such programs may necessitate regular attendance, and you may be asked to talk about how you are coping, or you may be offered information about using nicotine replacement therapy (such as patches or chewing gum) to help deal with your cravings. You can also buy self-help books that you might find useful.

My doctor has prescribed eight different pills. Do I really need to take all of them?

Type 2 diabetes is a complex disease and you probably have a number of conditions: a high blood glucose level, high blood pressure, and a high level of blood fats, often accompanied by being overweight. Each one of these increases your chance of developing heart disease, so you may have been prescribed pills for each of these. You may need two or more types of pill just to control your blood glucose level and possibly insulin as well; you may need three or more different types of pills to treat your blood pressure; and you may need more pills to lower your blood fat levels. In addition to these, you may be prescribed aspirin to protect your heart, and pills to reduce your appetite.

I’ve already had a heart attack. Is there any point trying to keep healthy?

Your heart attack shows that heart disease has already done some damage, but taking steps toward better health will prevent this from getting worse and improve the health of your heart. Taking action now, such as becoming more active and giving up smoking if you smoke, will greatly reduce your chances of having another heart attack or a stroke. Your heart is able to recover, and each step you take toward healthier living will help.

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