Diabetes Week: The Connection Between Diabetes, Your Heart & Your Health
This week 8th – 14th of June is Diabetes Week. When we think about Diabetes and Heart Disease (or cardiovascular disease), it seems that the majority of us think of two separate conditions. However, did you know that if you have diabetes you are more likely to develop heart disease and you have a greater chance of a heart attack or a stroke? This is because people with diabetes are more likely to have certain risk factors such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol.
So, if you have diabetes (or know some one who has) understanding the connection between these diseases is a great first step towards prevention.
HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE (BP)
High BP (or hypertension) is one of the most common risk factors for heart disease whether you have diabetes or not. Having high blood pressure places strain on your heart and can damage blood vessels. This makes you more susceptible to a variety of complications including heart attack, stroke, kidney problems and even vision issues.
If you have both diabetes and high blood pressure, you’re at least twice as likely to develop heart disease. However developing or maintaining healthy lifestyle habits can significantly help you manage your diabetes and also prevent heart disease.
Did you know that the simplest way to control your blood pressure is to adopt a healthy diet and to exercise regularly. This applies to us all…
HIGH BLOOD SUGAR (GLUCOSE)
If you have high blood sugar levels for a long period of time, your blood vessels can start to get damaged, resulting in serious heart complications. The reason for this is because your body can’t use all of this sugar properly, therefore more of it sticks to your red blood cells and builds up in your blood. This build-up can block and damage the vessels carrying blood to and from your heart, starving the heart of oxygen and nutrients.
Monitoring your blood sugar is an important part of properly managing your diabetes. Ideally, you should be checking your levels with a self-monitoring device. Then, you should be keeping a diary of your levels and bring it to medical appointments to review with your doctor.
OBESITY & BELLY FAT
Being overweight or obese can affect your ability to manage your diabetes and increase your risk for many health problems, including heart disease and high blood pressure. If you are overweight, a healthy eating plan with reduced calories often will lower your glucose levels and reduce your need for medications.
Excess belly fat (around your middle) even if you are not overweight can raise your chances of developing heart disease. Do you know how to measure your waist? Getting your cholesterol checked is also advisable, as cholesterol (blood fats) damage blood vessels too!
These measures are all part of our 1-2-1 health checks.
A family history of heart disease may add to your chances of developing heart disease. If one or more of your immediate family members had a heart attack before age 50, you may have an even higher chance of developing heart disease. Although you can’t change whether heart disease runs in your family or your genetics, you can control your lifestyle choices!
Reduce Your Risk…
The really good news is the choices you make can help to reduce the risk of having a heart attack or developing heart disease. Taking control of lifestyle and behaviours can make a huge difference:
- Get your Blood Sugar, Blood Pressure and Cholesterol measured.
- Don’t smoke. Smoking makes it harder for blood to flow around your body, especially to your heart.
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet. Reducing saturated fat is a good place to start.
- Be physcially active. Do some daily exercise.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Take any medication as prescribed.
All of these lifestyle modifications alongside getting enough sleep, trying some relaxation techniques and managing stress are relevant to us all (with or without a diabetes diagnosis). Long-term stress can raise your blood glucose and blood pressure so manage it and prevent it where possible!
But I don’t have diabetes…
Did you know that the older we get, the more likely we are to get diabetes, specifically type 2. Although no-one completely understands the causes of diabetes, if you control the risk factors, you can reduce your chances of getting it.
It’s estimated that 1.1 million people in the UK have diabetes but haven’t been diagnosed. Worse still 9/10 of these cases are preventable!
Here are some simple lifestyle choices you can make to help you not only reduce your risk but also boost your overall health & wellbeing:
- Manage your weight. Excess body fat (particularly if stored around the middle) can increase the body’s resistance to the hormone insulin. This can lead to type 2 diabetes.
- Exercise regularly. Moderate physical activity on most days of the week helps manage weight, reduce blood glucose levels and may also improve blood pressure and cholesterol. Avoid sedentary behaviours!
- Eat a balanced, healthy diet. Reduce the amount of fat in your diet, especially saturated and trans fats. Eat more fruit, vegetables and high-fibre foods. Cut back on salt. Drink lots of water. Watch portion sizes.
- Limit takeaway and processed foods. ‘Convenience meals’ are usually high in salt, sugars, fat and calories. It’s always best to cook for yourself using fresh, seasonal ingredients whenever possible. Always avoid refined carbs!
- Limit your alcohol intake. Too much alcohol can lead to weight gain and may increase blood pressure and triglycerides.
So if you reduce your risk of diabetes, you reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and vice versa! Surely its a no-brainer?!
Diabetes & COVID-19
According to Diabetes UK and the Scientific advice surrounding the Coronavirus, if you have diabetes, regardless on what type you have, you are more likely to catch coronavirus than anyone else.
“Everyone with diabetes, including those with type 1, type 2, gestational and other types, is vulnerable to developing a severe illness if they do get coronavirus, but the way it affects you can vary from person to person.”
While the UK government has recently eased some lockdown restrictions in England, the advice for people with diabetes across the UK is still to stay at home as much as possible and to minimise contact with people outside your household. Only go out for:
- basic necessities, like food and medicine
- any medical need or to care for a vulnerable person
- going to and from work, and only if you can’t work from home
- ensure you still follow strict social distancing measures.
Also, if you are already self-isolating or following the shielding guidance, then you must continue following those rules. Visit their website for more regular, updated information.
You can also visit the British Heart Foundation website for more helpful advice regarding your health and COVID-19.