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By Ashley Welch
Staying active, eating a healthy diet and managing blood pressure are hallmarks of a heart-healthy lifestyle, and new research suggests they may also have another benefit. Following the same guidelines that are good for your heart could also significantly reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Every year, about 600,000 Americans die of heart disease, making it the leading cause of death in the U.S. for both men and women. And about 1 in 10 Americans have diabetes, with 90 to 95 percent of cases being type 2 diabetes, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports.
Dr. Janette Nesheiwat says the two diseases are closely related.
"Diabetes affects the blood vessels and the blood vessels in your heart which can lead to a heart attack or a stroke," she told CBS News. "Most people who have diabetes will have a heart attack or a stroke."
The American Heart Association developed guidelines called "Life's Simple 7" that offer proven ways to help prevent heart disease. These behaviors include:
The new study, published in the journal Diabetologia, found that adults who adhered to at least four out of the seven guidelines were 80 percent less likely to develop type 2 diabetes over a 10-year period. The research also showed that adopting these healthy habits early was crucial for prevention.
"For those who were already diabetic or prediabetic when they adopted these lifestyle changes, they had no change in their risk of diabetes," the lead author of the study, Dr. Joshua J. Joseph, an assistant professor of endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, explained in a statement. "That's why it's important to make these changes before health issues develop."
Nesheiwat acknowledged that making some of these lifestyle changes isn't always easy.
"We live in a fast-paced fast food culture, a society where everyone is on the go," she said. "It's something that we have to work hard at, invest in ourselves so we can live long, healthy lives."
Genetics can also play a role in these diseases. "Unfortunately, [for some people] you can exercise routinely, eat a good balanced high-fiber, low-fat diet, but there is a genetic component," Nesheiwat said. "But we have most of the control and that's usually environmental factors. We can control what we eat, what we put in our bodies, if we exercise."
Experts say it's important to get regular checkups and physicals so your doctor can monitor your blood pressure, glucose, and cholesterol levels to see if they need to be managed with lifestyle changes or medications.
"You can take matters into your own hands by being proactive and not just seeing your doctor when you're sick but seeing your doctor routinely so we can catch diseases early," Nesheiwat said.