If you’re living with diabetes, you’re probably aware that you have a of developing cardiovascular (CV) disease — also known as heart disease. But what you may not know is that you can significantly lower this risk by making certain changes to your day-to-day routine.

Below are five essential lifestyle changes you can make to manage your diabetes and lower your risk for heart disease.

1. Eat healthy

One of the most important lifestyle changes you can make to manage your diabetes and lower your risk for heart disease is to adopt a healthier diet.

Whenever possible, choose foods that are low in sodium, trans fat, and saturated fat. Go for whole grains over white bread, skinless chicken or fish over red meat, and low-fat dairy products over whole milk or regular cheese.

Make sure that each of your meals contains a balanced mix of starches, fruits, vegetables, proteins, and fats. In general, try to avoid sugar-sweetened beverages like soda and juice, unless you’re using them as a way to boost a low blood sugar level.

2. Stay active

Exercising is a great way to help reduce your risk of developing heart disease. As a bonus, it can improve your sense of well-being.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults spend at least per week participating in moderate-intensity aerobic exercise. This can be anything from a brisk walk to a bike ride around the neighborhood.

If you like your workouts to be a bit more strenuous, you can do an hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobics instead. Some examples of vigorous-intensity aerobics include jogging, swimming laps, and hiking uphill.

You may also want to try muscle-strengthening activities that work your arms, legs, hips, chest, shoulders, abs, and back. The CDC recommends at least two nonconsecutive days of this type of activity a week.

3. Manage your stress levels

High levels of stress over an extended period of time can cause an increase in blood pressure. This can lead to damage of your arteries. If you’re feeling stressed out or are prone to anxiety, there are many relaxation techniques you can use to calm yourself down. Here’s a quick breakdown of a simple breathing exercise, known as the 4-7-8 method:

  1. Exhale completely through your mouth.
  2. Inhale through your nose for four seconds.
  3. Hold your breath in for seven seconds.
  4. Exhale completely through your mouth for eight seconds.
  5. Repeat this cycle three more times.

Relaxation techniques like this can lower your blood pressure. They can also help to maintain a normal blood sugar level and decrease your risk for heart disease and stroke. Your doctor can help you figure out which relaxation techniques might work best for you.

4. Take steps to quit smoking

It’s no secret that smoking is harmful to your health and can also seriously impact the health of those around you. But if you have diabetes, the health risks posed by smoking are significantly greater.

Cigarette smoke causes major damage to the heart and blood vessels, and increases your chances of developing kidney disease, vision problems, and nerve damage. It can also lead to poor blood flow in your legs and feet.

Even if you’ve been a smoker for years, it’s never too late to quit. Talk to your doctor about which strategies for quitting might work best for you.

5. Have regular checkups

No matter how healthy you feel, frequent checkups and discussions with your doctor are key. At every regular healthcare visit, your doctor should be checking your blood pressure and blood sugar. They’ll likely check your cholesterol every 6 to 12 months.

You should feel comfortable talking with your doctor about your diet and your lifestyle. Remember that your doctor isn’t there to judge you. The more honest you are about any health problems or concerns you may be having, the easier it will be to treat them.

The takeaway

By adopting and maintaining these lifestyle changes, you’ll be taking a major step toward managing your diabetes and reducing your risk of heart disease. It may not always be easy, but with the help of your healthcare team and the support of your friends and family, you can make it happen.