Tips for Staying Heart-Healthy While Living with Diabetes


People living with type 2 diabetes are twice as likely to develop heart disease or have a stroke as someone without diabetes. Adopting a healthy lifestyle can help you manage your diabetes and improve important numbers like weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol level, which impacts your risk of developing heart disease.

"There's a lot you can do to improve your health if you've been diagnosed with diabetes," says Dr. Holly Andersen, an attending cardiologist and director of education and outreach at the Ronald O. Perelman Heart Institute at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. "Diabetes is a manageable condition. Working with your doctor to regularly check your blood sugar levels, taking any prescribed medication, and making certain lifestyle changes can have life-changing effects on diabetes and your heart health."

Keep track of your blood glucose level

Diabetes is a disease that presents when blood glucose (blood sugar) — your primary source of energy that comes from the food you eat — is too high. The higher your blood sugar level, the higher your risk of heart disease.

"To determine if you have diabetes, we can do a fasting blood test or a hemoglobin A1C test, which looks at your sugar levels over three months," Dr. Andersen says. "The most desirable level is below 5.5. If it's over 6.5, we consider that diabetes. If it's between 5.5 and 6.5, you're at an increased risk or pre-diabetic."

Once you've received a diagnosis of diabetes or pre-diabetes, you should work with your health care provider to define target A1C goals to manage the condition.

Watch your waistline

"Often, diabetes and heart disease are directly related to your waistline. The fat around your waist is metabolically active, causing us to be insulin resistant. It probably also interferes with our blood pressure and cholesterol levels," she says. "Anything you can do to make your waistline less is better for your health."

She adds: “Even without that much change in weight, you can reduce your waistline to be a much healthier person.”

Reducing visceral fat, a type of body fat located near several vital organs that can build up in the arteries, is essential for improving overall health. Visceral fat can increase insulin resistance, even if you've never had diabetes or pre-diabetes. Not all belly fat is visceral fat. Your health care provider can evaluate your visceral fat and the health risks it poses to your body. Fortunately, visceral fat is receptive to diet and exercise.

We understand the challenges of weight management and have developed innovative approaches to help reach and maintain a healthy weight. Call 646-962-5483 to learn more about the one-of-a-kind ICHANGE program at NYP/Weill Cornell Medicine or 212-305-5568 to learn more about the Weight Control Center at NYP/Columbia.

Eat a well-balanced diet

Diet is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle for everyone. The US Department of Agriculture recommends it to:

  • Eat five or more fruits and vegetables daily
  • Have grain, particularly whole grains, such as whole-grain bread and whole-grain cereal
  • Enjoy 2 to 3 servings of low-fat or fat-free dairy choices daily, such as a glass of milk, yogurt, or low-fat cheeses
  • Have a variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), and nuts, seeds, and soy products
  • Limit or avoid processed foods, meats, and items with added sugars, such as baked goods, sodas, and other drinks with added sugars

You should keep a diary of what foods you've eaten and how it impacts your blood glucose levels. That way, you can have a better idea of how certain foods affect your body. If you're looking for a diabetes-friendly recipe or meal ideas, visit

Getting moving

It’s estimated that losing 7% of body weight can lower your risk of developing diabetes by about half.

“Increasing your physical activity, even a little, is helpful,” she says. It’s recommended to exercise for at least 30 minutes. “Walking is a good indicator of your health. If you can walk, even just a few blocks, it’s better than someone who is completely sedentary.”

Make other meaningful lifestyle changes

Other lifestyle changes that can help reduce your risk of developing heart disease include:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Manage stress
  • Limit alcohol
  • Get enough sleep
  • Keep blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels under control

“It’s never too late to start living healthier. Just because you’ve always eaten a certain way or lived a certain way doesn’t mean changing it now won’t be beneficial,” Dr. Andersen says.