Diabetic Seniors Urged to Be Heart Smart

Those with diabetes have a high risk for heart disease

While February 14 is a day focused on celebrating Valentine’s sweethearts, February marks “American Heart Month” and is dedicated to spreading awareness about the importance of heart health. Health Net Inc. is working to increase awareness regarding the strong link between diabetes and heart disease and sharing steps diabetic seniors can take to reduce their risk of heart disease. According to the American Diabetes Association, adults with diabetes have heart disease death rates that are from two to four times higher than adults who aren’t diabetic.


“Statistics from the American Diabetes Association show that nearly 26 million Americans have diabetes; of that, nearly 11 million are 65 years or older,” says Jonathan Scheff, MD, chief medical officer for Health Net Inc. “That’s a significant portion of the population.”


He added, “Some plans, including Health Net, have recognized that their Medicare Advantage members with diabetes require a unique model of care, known as a special needs plan. This type of plan is designed to help Medicare members manage their diabetes, and as a result, help to prevent the development of conditions such as heart disease.” Scheff went on to point out that a study published in the January 2012 issue of Health Affairs found that diabetics enrolled in Medicare Advantage special needs plans experienced reduced rates of hospitalization and hospital readmissions as compared to individuals enrolled in original fee-for-service Medicare plans.


Lowering the risk of heart disease


Through its “National Diabetes Education Program,” the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is emphasizing the strong link between diabetes and heart disease by noting that 65 percent of diabetics die from heart disease and stroke. To lower the risk of heart disease, HHS recommends that those with diabetes take these steps:


    * Reach and stay at a healthy weight – Being overweight is a risk factor for both heart attacks and stroke. Strive to consume a heart-healthy diet that includes at least 14 grams of fiber daily for every 1,000 calories. Additionally, reduce saturated fat intake, keep dietary cholesterol to less than 300 milligrams a day, and avoid trans fat whenever possible. Opt for whole grains, fruits, vegetables, fat-free or low-fat milk/milk products, lean meats, poultry and fish.

    * Get at least 30 minutes of physical activity – Aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity most days of the week. In addition to planned exercise, also look for other physical activity opportunities, such as taking the stairs instead of an elevator. Regardless of the specific activity, exercise is an essential ingredient in maintaining a healthy weight and blood pressure.

    * Stop smoking – Smoking doubles the risk of developing heart disease. Quitting smoking is especially important for diabetics because both smoking and diabetes narrow blood vessels. Smoking also increases the risk of other long-term complications, such as eye problems, and can damage blood vessels in the legs.

    * Keep cholesterol and blood pressure in check – Elevated cholesterol and blood pressure increase the risk of heart disease. For those with diabetes, LDL cholesterol should be less than 100 milligrams per deciliter, and blood pressure should be less than 130/80.


For more information about HHS’ “National Diabetes Education Program,” visit ndep.nig.gov. Visitors to Health Net’s website, healthnet.com, also have access to the company’s Healthy Start program, a healthy eating and exercise campaign for families. It is available free of charge 24/7 so you can use it at your convenience and in the privacy of your own home.