Diabetes Educator

5 Ways to Keep Your Heart Healthy

By Timika Chambers, MSN BSN RN

Two hand holding a heart shape

One of the biggest risks that come with diabetes is the effect it has on the heart. Let's talk about where the risks come from and how to avoid or delay the onset of heart conditions related to diabetes.

The heart is approximately the size of a person's fist, and although small, the heart plays a critical role in keeping the body alive.

Your heart is part of a more extensive system, the cardiovascular system, which comprises the heart, blood vessels (large and small byways and highways throughout the body), and blood. The cardiovascular system supplies the body with oxygenated, nutrient-rich blood and removes deoxygenated blood.

Like every organ in your body, the heart needs a supportive environment. For example, the heart's circuitry (heartbeat and rhythm) relies on balanced electrolytes such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, and sodium and its supply of oxygenated blood. But, just like any condition, the way to prevent, avoid, or delay heart disease is to address the causative factors.

Heart disease continues to be the leading cause of death in men and women. Heart disease includes coronary artery disease, problems with the heart's electrical system (arrhythmias), heart problems born with, and heart valve disease (the doors in your heart to keep blood moving in one direction and prevent backflow).

Causative factors for heart disease include being overweight, unhealthy eating, lack of physical activity, and excessive consumption of alcohol. In addition, people diagnosed with diabetes (PWD) have an increased risk of developing heart disease.

Some symptoms of heart disease include chest pain, shortness of breath, jaw pain, and numbness in the left arm. However, sometimes women may experience low back pain, nausea, and vomiting when their heart is in trouble.

5 Ways to Keep Your Heart Healthy

There is always something you can do to improve your heart health. Here are five to get you thinking.

1- Be intentional about your meals. 

Keep your heart front and center. In 10 Essential Nutrients for Hearth Health, Amy Meyers, MD, lists ten nutrients found in common foods to help promote heart health such as: 

These nutrients are in various foods, especially fruits and vegetables. 

2- Keep your heart oxygenated with physical activity. 

Aim for 30 minutes of aerobic exercise five days a week. Climbing the stairs, dancing, and walking are some ways to help your heart. Please always discuss your activity plans and potential limitations with your healthcare provider before you start an activity. 

3- Manage and reduce your stress by aiming to control the things you can. 

Chronic unmanaged stress is at the root of many diseases and illnesses, including heart disease.

4- Avoid taking in chemicals that can cause more pressure on your heart. 

For example, the chemicals in smoking can damage your heart and blood vessels can limit the amount of blood your cells receive.

5- Find time for activities you love.

Incorporate activities you enjoy. Sometimes, we get so busy with work that work becomes all we do. Yet, doing what you love elicits healthy chemicals (adrenaline) from your body and a feeling of self-worth. In addition, you can incorporate managing your stress and staying active into one enjoyable activity (dancing, drawing, painting, walking, and others). So plan for no work days weekly and do what you love.

Recipes Promoting Heart Health

Here are some resources for finding heart-healthy recipes you can incorporate into your eating plan. 

From the American Heart Association: Diabetes and Heart-Healthy Meals for Two 

From the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Try this Chicken Sweet Potato and Butternut Squash Hash