Diabetes increases your risk of heart disease and stroke. Fortunately, there's plenty you can do to avoid trouble. Some studies have shown that 4 out of 5 heart attacks -- and about half of all strokes -- can be avoided. Yet fewer than 5% of people follow the best prevention advice. Here are six ways to protect yourself.
1. Get Moving
You don't have to join a gym -- unless you want to, of course. A brisk 30-minute walk every day provides almost all the benefits of more strenuous exercise. Walking lowers blood pressure, helps improve cholesterol levels, and burns calories. Together, those benefits add up to potent protection. Harvard scientists reported in 1999 that women who walked three or more hours a week cut their risk of heart disease and stroke by 35%.
Tip: Consider buying a pedometer (step counter). These simple devices allow you to track how many steps you've taken. Studies show they help motivate people to be more active.
2. Choose Heart-Healthy Fats
Saturated fats, found chiefly in meat and high-fat dairy products such as butter and cheese, raise blood cholesterol levels. Unsaturated fats, such as vegetable oils, help keep cholesterol down. Go easy on fatty meats. Use vegetable oil instead of butter whenever you can. Help yourself to a couple of servings of fish a week. Omega-3 fats, found mostly in fish, have also been shown to help prevent abnormal heart rhythms that can lead to heart attacks.
Tip: Choose fatty fish, such as salmon and sardines, which have the highest levels of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. For plant sources, choose walnuts, flax seeds, soybeans, kale, collard greens, and winter squash.
3. Fill Up on Whole Grains, Fruits, and Vegetables
Whole grains, fruits, and vegetables are high in fiber and low in calories, ideal for maintaining a healthy weight. They also abound in antioxidant vitamins that may help keep cholesterol from gumming up arteries. A 2009 study found that people cut their risk of heart disease by 81% and their risk of stroke by 50% if they kept their weight down, exercised 3.5 hours or more a week, didn't smoke, and helped themselves to lots of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
Tip: Set a goal of filling half of your plate with vegetables.
4. Maintain a Healthy Weight
Losing weight and keeping pounds off isn’t easy. But research shows that maintaining a healthy weight lowers your risk of heart disease and stroke. The only proven approach is to cut back on calories consumed and to burn more calories through exercise.
Tip: Don’t get discouraged if the pounds are slow to drop. Even if you’re overweight or obese, you cut your risk of heart disease and stroke by exercising, choosing healthy foods, and following the other healthy advice.