February is winding down. The groundhog saw his shadow, so winter will be hanging around a little longer than we all hoped. Valentine’s Day has come and gone (perhaps a relief for some?). Not much else happens in February…with the exception of American Heart Month.
In 1963, Congress required the president to designate February as American Heart Month. Heart disease is the number one cause of death in this country, followed by cancer and stroke. Heart disease can lead to a heart attack, angina, heart failure, and heart arrhythmia. Other conditions can stem from having heart disease, such as high blood pressure and peripheral vascular disease. And we’ve discussed in previous posts how people with diabetes are already at higher risk for heart disease.
Now, this isn’t about doom and gloom. Instead, in the remaining days of February, maybe this is the time to focus on your heart (and blood vessels) and ask yourself if you’re doing what you can to keep this vital organ as healthy as possible. You could liken it to getting an inspection sticker for your car, or getting your oil burner cleaned. OK, that may sound silly, but when you have diabetes, you focus so much on your daily self-care activities (checking blood glucose, taking your pills or insulin, counting carbs…) that it’s easy to overlook other things.
Checklist for Heart Health
Get your blood pressure at target. Here’s how:
- The goal for most people with diabetes is less than 130/80 mm Hg.
- Consider buying a home blood pressure monitor to keep tabs on your blood pressure.
- Take your blood pressure medicine as directed. You still need to take it even if your blood pressure is within target and even if you feel fine.
- Lose a few pounds if you’re overweight.
- Go walking…or swimming…or dancing…in short, do some kind of activity every day.
- Five-a-day for fruits and vegetables — it’s not that hard to do!
- Hide the salt shaker. Read labels for sodium (more than 400 milligrams [mg] per serving is too high).
Get your lipid profile at target. Here’s how:
- Find out what your cholesterol and triglyceride numbers are. For most people with diabetes, the LDL (”bad”) cholesterol goal is less than 100 mg/dl or less than 70 mg/dl if you have heart disease. HDL (”good”) cholesterol should be higher than 50 mg/dl for women and higher than 40 mg/dl for men. Triglycerides (blood fats) should be less than 150 mg/dl.
- Focus on the fat in your diet. As you know, not all fat is bad. Saturated and trans fats are the culprits, so limit them. Substitute with healthy fats, such as olive oil, peanut oil, and canola oil. And eat more fatty fish.
- Consider taking an omega-3 fatty acid supplement (fish or krill oil), but talk with your physician first, especially if you take blood thinner medication.
- Kick off the day with a bowl of steel-cut oatmeal. Yes, it takes longer to cook, but these oats are packed with soluble fiber and the glycemic index is lower in steel-cut oats than in the instant kind. Cook it overnight in your slow cooker, and it will be ready and waiting for you in the morning.
- Five-a-day for fruits and vegetables — lower your blood pressure and your cholesterol at the same time!
- Spread a plant stanol/sterol-based margarine on your toast or English muffin. Try Benecol or Promise Activ spreads.
- If you’ve been prescribed a lipid-lowering drug such as a statin, be sure to take it. If you’re worried about side effects, talk to your doctor about alternatives.
Know the signs and symptoms of a heart attack:
- Pain or discomfort in your chest, arms, back, jaw, or stomach
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea or vomiting
- Feeling faint or dizzy
- In women, heartburn, loss of appetite, weakness, coughing
Better to be safe than sorry: Call 911 or have someone call for you if you think you might be having a heart attack.