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Tim Dokken strives to control his diabetes and heart disease with activity, healthy eating and medication.

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Tim Dokken knew that his family’s medical history put his health at risk. His father and three siblings had died from heart disease, and all had type 2 diabetes.

Still, he wasn’t prepared for the shock of learning in 1997, at age 40, that one of his arteries was 75 per cent blocked and he needed bypass surgery. Additional medical tests confirmed that Mr. Dokken also had type 2 diabetes. He now had two medical issues to manage and began to learn more about how they were connected.

“Before, I didn’t understand how diabetes affects cardiac health and that high blood glucose (sugar) can damage your heart,” says Mr. Dokken, now 62. “I was surprised when I found out that having type 2 diabetes puts you at risk of developing heart disease 10 to 15 years earlier than people without diabetes.”

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Lacking knowledge about the link between diabetes and heart disease is not unusual. A recent My Heart Matters (MHM) Lifestyle Poll found that one in two Canadians with type 2 diabetes does not know that their diabetes alone significantly increases the risk of heart attack, heart failure and stroke. The survey also found that more than half (56 per cent) don’t know or don’t believe heart disease is the most common cause of death among adults with type 2 diabetes.*

Dr. David Lau professor of Medicine and diabetes researcher University of Calgary Cumming School of Medicine

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Regular exercise, can reduce heart disease risks even without weight loss.

— Dr. David Lau professor of Medicine and diabetes researcher University of Calgary Cumming School of Medicine

The MHM Lifestyle Poll also found a majority of Canadians with type 2 diabetes (85 per cent) are failing to meet Diabetes Canada’s recommended guidelines of 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week, plus at least two resistance exercise sessions (such as lifting weights) each week.

This finding is of great concern, says Dr. David Lau, a diabetes researcher and a professor at the University of Calgary.

“Exercise helps control weight and blood sugar, while also reducing the risk of heart disease,” says Dr. Lau. “If you have diabetes, you should do whatever you can to make healthy behavioural changes, including shedding excess body fat, eating a healthy diet and exercising on a regular basis.

“Regular exercise, in fact, can reduce heart disease risks even without weight loss.”

Although exercise and a healthy diet are important, some people with type 2 diabetes may benefit from additional medications that reduce the threat of early death from heart disease.

“We now have medications that not only help people with type 2 diabetes control their sugars but also reduce risks for heart attacks and strokes,” says Dr. Lau. “We encourage people with diabetes and a history of heart disease to ask their physician if these new medications might be right for them.”

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Mr. Dokken has continued to struggle with his heart health; he had another bypass, and in 2007, he had a heart attack. He is now taking medication to protect against premature death from heart disease.

“I have felt better since I’ve been taking medication. I’m also eating healthier foods, walking as much as I can and keeping active working on renovations,” he says. “You can take steps to control your diabetes and heart disease.”

*Source: Environics Research Group. “My Heart Matters Lifestyle Poll”: Online survey conducted among 1,500 Canadians over 18 years of age in September 2017 and updated in 2018 and 2019.

Produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved in its creation.

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