February is American Heart Month – and it’s not because of Valentine’s Day. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death for men, women, and most racial groups and ethnicities across the country.

One person dies every 37 seconds from heart disease – and certain conditions can increase your chances of developing heart disease, including type 2 diabetes. Here is what you need to know about taking care of your heart and body by reducing your chronic disease risk.

The Relationship Between Type 2 Diabetes and Heart Disease

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), people who have type 2 diabetes have a higher risk of contracting some sort of cardiovascular disease. They provide the following statistics to highlight this point:

  • Approximately 68% of people aged 65 or older with type 2 diabetes will die from heart disease.
  • People with type 2 diabetes are between 2 to 4 times more likely to die of heart disease than someone who does not have diabetes.

There are a number of reasons why health complications related to type 2 diabetes can heighten heart disease risk, as identified by the AHA.

Obesity is a major risk factor for heart disease, and people with type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance tend to have higher body weights. Obesity can increase insulin resistance, which heightens blood sugar levels as well as increases the risk of high blood pressure.

High blood pressure is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, and many studies indicate a relationship between hypertension and insulin resistance. When someone has both hypertension and insulin resistance issues related to diabetes, their risk of heart disease increases.

In addition, a lack of physical activity – particularly aerobic activity – can increase insulin resistance, lead to high blood sugar and high blood pressure, and increase the risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular problems.

Taking Care of Your Heart and Body

The AHA lists type 2 diabetes as one of the seven controllable risk factors for heart disease, and for good reason. If you are prediabetic, you can prevent type 2 diabetes by making key lifestyle changes to lower your blood sugar and reduce certain factors that put you at a higher risk. Plus, these changes can increase your heart health in the process.

  • First, if you are overweight or obese, weight loss can greatly reduce your chances of developing type 2 diabetes, experiencing insulin resistance, and developing cardiovascular issues. Making healthier lifestyle changes to reduce your chronic disease risk often leads to weight loss.
  • You should aim to eat a healthy diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean or plant-based proteins. Avoiding processed, fatty, sugary, and high-sodium foods can help lower your blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels – all of which can reduce stress on your heart and insulin-producing pancreas.
  • You should also aim to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week, with at least 30 minutes of this physical activity per day. Regular exercise can provide multiple benefits, including a stronger heart, reduced insulin resistance and lower blood sugar, and better blood circulation – which can all lower your risk of heart disease and diabetes.

Making these smart lifestyle decisions now can improve your cardiovascular health and reduce your risk of chronic disease in the long run – small changes can lead to lifelong healthy habits in the future.

Exercise regularly, eat well, and take care of your heart and body. You’ll thank yourself later!