Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

brand logo

Am Fam Physician. 2000;62(12):2645-2646

See related article on type 2 diabetes.

What does diabetes have to do with heart disease?

People with diabetes are more likely to get heart disease because diabetes can have a bad effect on your blood vessels. Some of your lifestyle habits may also raise this risk. Here are some things you can do about your lifestyle habits:

1. Keep your blood sugar level under control

Keeping your blood sugar level under control will cut your risk of heart disease. Most people with diabetes check their blood sugar level every day.

By exercising often and eating a healthy diet, many people with type 2 diabetes can keep their blood sugar level nearly normal. Some people have to take medicines to control their blood sugar level.

2. Lose weight—and keep it off

Diabetes and overweight often go together. Losing weight helps a lot of health problems. For example, if you have been told that your blood pressure is too high, losing weight can make it lower. If your blood sugar level has been hard to control, losing weight can help.

Weight loss is important if you have a lot of extra weight around your waist and tummy. “Spare-tire” fat is more risky for heart disease than extra weight around the hips or thighs.

You don't have to lose a huge amount to help. Losing even 10 pounds will cut your risk of heart disease. Just don't regain the weight that you lose.

3. Lower your cholesterol level

Cholesterol is in many fats and oils, but it is not a fat. It is a part of many important body substances (like hormones) and body structures (including the brain and nerves). But, too much cholesterol in your blood can clog your arteries.

You've probably heard about “good” and “bad” cholesterol. Bad cholesterol (LDL cholesterol) can clog your arteries and lead to heart disease. Good cholesterol (HDL cholesterol) carries unneeded cholesterol away from body tissues, so it lowers your risk of heart disease.

If your doctor says your cholesterol level is too high, what can you do about it? It helps to lose weight and eat a healthy diet. Your diet should limit the amount of fatty and cholesterol-rich foods you eat.

Many cookbooks contain low-fat, heart-healthy recipes and meal suggestions. If you need help with this, your doctor might refer you to a dietitian with special training in planning healthy diets to suit your needs.

If diet alone doesn't lower your cholesterol level, medicines can help do that. You and your doctor can talk about these medicines. The medicine that is best for you depends on your special needs and medical condition.

4. Increase your physical activity

Along with diet, exercise is very important for people with diabetes. Diet and exercise work together—your diet will work faster and better if you get regular exercise.

You and your doctor can plan exercises that will work for you and be safe. You don't need a gym or expensive equipment to get good exercise. Brisk walking is great exercise. Climbing stairs instead of taking an elevator is another good thing to do.

Like eating a healthy diet, exercise will also help lower your blood sugar level and cut your risk of heart disease.

5. Control your blood pressure

People with diabetes often have high blood pressure too. High blood pressure is a big risk factor for stroke. It also increases your risk for heart disease and kidney disease.

If your doctor says your blood pressure is too high, what can you do? The same lifestyle changes that control blood sugar levels and lower your risk of heart disease may also keep your blood pressure at safe levels. Weight loss and exercise are important. The greater the weight loss, the more you lower your blood pressure. It is also important not to drink very much alcohol.

If you can't lower your blood pressure with diet and exercise, your doctor might have you take medicines that will help.

6. If you smoke, stop smoking

Smoking is bad for anyone but even worse for people with diabetes. Smoking also has a bad effect on your blood vessels. If you have diabetes and you also smoke, you double your risk of getting heart disease. Worse still, if you keep smoking while you try to reduce other risks (like losing extra weight), the diet won't do you much good.


Diabetes and heart disease are related. Diabetes, being overweight and having high blood pressure are related. Diet and exercise are good ways to control your blood sugar level, lower your blood pressure and cut your risk of getting heart disease. When diet and exercise don't help enough, medicines can help control blood sugar levels, lower cholesterol levels and control blood pressure. You can do a lot to help by your own efforts.

Where can I get more information?

The American Diabetes Association can help you choose the right foods, plan healthy meals and get good nutrition while keeping your calories down.

  • American Diabetes Association

  • 1701 North Beauregard Street

  • Alexandria, VA 22311

  • Telephone: 1-800-342-2383

  • Web address:

The American Heart Association is a good source for diets that are low in fat and cholesterol.

Continue Reading

More in AFP

Copyright © 2000 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

This content is owned by the AAFP. A person viewing it online may make one printout of the material and may use that printout only for his or her personal, non-commercial reference. This material may not otherwise be downloaded, copied, printed, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any medium, whether now known or later invented, except as authorized in writing by the AAFP.  See permissions for copyright questions and/or permission requests.