Diabetes isn’t like a broken bone, asthma attack or burn, each of which can damage our health in a matter of minutes or hours. Instead, diabetes tends to take years to cause problems with our heart and other parts of our health.
That adds up to a higher heart attack risk in young people with diabetes. The longer you have diabetes, the higher your risk of heart disease.
Heart attack is already the biggest cause of death for adults, and diabetes doubles a person’s risk of dying from it.
A 2019 study in the American Heart Association's journal, Circulation, shows how diabetes risk is closely tied to a person’s age at diagnosis. People diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes before age 40 had the highest risk. And the findings are particularly dire if you’re a woman.
This suggests that young adults should be especially vigilant about preventing and treating their diabetes. Because diabetes is invisible, it can be hard to understand how it can harm our heart.
How Is This Happening?
Diabetes is often caused by obesity and high blood pressure, both of which are bad for the heart. But its defining characteristic is high blood sugar.
Over time, these blood sugar levels can harden your blood vessels and make them contract, or shrink, making it easier for them to get blocked. This blockage, which prevents oxygen and blood from reaching the heart, is what causes heart attacks.
The blockage of blood vessels in the brain is also the leading cause of stroke.
Diabetes does not strike at random. Like smoking can put you at risk for lung cancer and heart attack, several conditions can be a signal that diabetes may be in your future.
Who’s At Risk?
Factors that raise your risk of getting Type 2 diabetes include:
● Being overweight or obese
● Prediabetes (blood sugar levels higher than normal)
● High blood pressure
● High triglyceride levels or low HDL (“good”) cholesterol
● A family history of diabetes
● Gestational diabetes (having diabetes during pregnancy)
● Being age 45 or older
Some of these factors, like your age and family history, are beyond your control. Fortunately, most cases of Type 2 diabetes are preventable.
What You Can Do
The good news is you can reduce your risk for diabetes with lifestyle changes. Delaying diabetes by even a few years will benefit your health. Here are five steps you can take right now to help prevent or delay diabetes:
- Get moving. Exercise can lower your blood sugar and help you lose weight. Aim to get at least 150 minutes of moderate activity every week. Try walking, dancing, swimming or playing kickball with the kids.
- Lose weight. Shedding excess pounds can go a long way toward preventing diabetes. Dropping just 5 to 10 percent of your body weight can help keep diabetes at bay.
- Eat wisely. Try reducing portion sizes and cutting back on foods high in fats and sugar. Drink water instead of sweetened beverages, order a side salad instead of fries or chips and choose fruit instead of a high-calorie dessert.
- Talk with your doctor. Ask about your personal risk and if there’s anything else you can do to reduce it.
- Don’t smoke. Smoking can add to diabetes risk by affecting your body’s insulin resistance. If you already smoke, ask your health care provider for help quitting.
Take charge of your diabetes risk. The healthier habits you adopt right now, the greater your chances of reducing your chances of developing diabetes — and heart disease.
All of these suggestions do more than help you avoid diabetes. Staying active can improve your mental health and help you cope with stress while eating right can boost your mood.
We see health not only as avoiding illnesses like diabetes, but in terms of thriving in body, mind and spirit. Our website is a great place to learn more about how that care philosophy might be able to help you.