By now, you’ve probably heard that people with diabetes have a higher risk of heart disease and heart attack than people without diabetes. If you’re one of the 24 million Americans who has diabetes, you might be wondering what you can do to keep your heart as healthy as possible. Keeping your cholesterol level in a safe range is a key part in lowering your risk for heart disease. But how do you get started? Remember, in order to know where you’re going, you need to know where you’re starting. Think about your cholesterol numbers, your food intake and your activity level. What changes can you make? Get started by taking these steps:
1. Know your numbers. One of the most essential things to consider when you have diabetes is to know your numbers. Knowing your A1C level and your glucose levels will help you decide if you need to make changes in your diabetes treatment plan. Here are a few other important numbers you need to know to make sure your cholesterol level is where it should be:
Known as the “bad” cholesterol, LDL can clog your arteries. Higher levels of LDL in the body put you at greater risk for having a heart attack or stroke.
Goal: less than 100 mg/dL, or less than 70 mg/dL if you already have heart disease.
Known as the “good” cholesterol, HDL can help unclog arteries. Higher levels of HDL in the body can protect you from getting heart disease.
Goal: higher than 40 mg/dL for men; higher than 50 mg/dL for women.
Also called blood fats, triglycerides can raise your risk for heart disease.
Goal: less than 150 mg/dL.
If you don’t know your cholesterol numbers, make it a point to find out what they are (and what your numbers should be) at your next appointment with your healthcare provider. Write down your results so you’ll have a record and can track your progress.
Your cholesterol numbers should be checked at least once a year or more often if they aren’t at your target level.
2. Choose the right foods. You might be thinking, “It’s hard enough to watch what I eat for my diabetes. Now I have to follow a heart-healthy diet, too?” Luckily, a heart-healthy eating plan is also good for your diabetes! And you don’t have to give up all of your favorite foods, but you might have to eat smaller portions of some or eat them less often. It may not be as hard as you think to get started. A dietitian can work with you to create a meal plan that’s based on the way you eat and the foods you like. Your meal plan can help you better manage your blood glucose and your cholesterol levels at the same time.
3. Maintain a healthy weight… for you. Losing weight can be hard for many people. Maybe you’ve tried diets in the past, only to go off them after a short while. If you need to lose weight, skip the fad diets and focus on trying to make healthier food choices and eating smaller portions. You may not lose weight very quickly, but the weight you lose is more likely to stay off. By staying at a healthy weight, you’ll be helping to lower your LDL cholesterol and triglycerides and to raise your HDL cholesterol, too. More good news: Losing even 10 to 20 pounds is enough to help lower your risk of heart disease. Aim for a weight that is healthy and realistic for you.
4. Get moving. Stop being a couch potato and start moving toward a healthier heart. Being active can boost your HDL level and can lower your LDL level at the same time. Plus, regular activity can help you burn calories and lower your glucose levels. Furthermore, it is important for keeping off the weight you’ve already lost.
Don’t like to exercise? No worries. You don’t have to join a gym or run around the local high school track to get rid of excess body fat. There are so many options. You can grab a pair of sneakers and go for a walk, or sign up for a dance class at the local Y. Even yard work and housework count as activity. The point is to choose something that you enjoy. Try to be active for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week. Check with your healthcare provider before starting any physical activity program.
5. Think about medication. “Another drug? I already take a lot!” We hear you. Medication for your diabetes, medication for your blood pressure… and now medication for your cholesterol? Well, maybe. Lifestyle changes are very important when it comes to taking care of your heart and blood vessels. But just as your diabetes may need some help from medicine, your body may need some extra help to lower your cholesterol level. If your LDL cholesterol does not get to your target level by healthy eating, weight control and more activity, you may need medication. The most common type of cholesterol-lowering drug is a statin, which can lower your LDL cholesterol between 20% and 60%. But there are other safe and good kinds of cholesterol-lowering medicines, too. Talk with your healthcare provider if you have questions about these or any of the prescriptions you take.