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Tu Salud: Lower Your Heart Disease, Diabetes Risk

Latino seniors are at greater risk for diabetes and heart disease. Here’s why and tips on what to do about it.

By Geri K. Metzger, Contributing Writer

200x265_709_hispanicsheartdiseasediabetes.jpgIn Latino families, tradition tends to run deep. Many seniors pride themselves on passing down family values and beliefs. Family dinners, favorite pastimes and celebrations keep family ties strong.

If you're Latino, there’s one thing you don’t want to pass down. That’s a risk of diabetes and heart disease. Start a new family tradition of health to lower you and your family’s risk of these health problems. Statistics show:

- More than one in 10 Latino Americans has diabetes.
- People with diabetes are two to four times more likely to die from heart disease and stroke than people without diabetes.
- Heart disease is the leading cause of death for Latinos in the U.S.

Why do so many Latinos get diabetes and heart disease?
Diabetes runs in families. And many people in this group inherit a higher risk for diabetes from their ancestors. Some scientists think Latino Americans have a gene that affects their production of insulin.

Having diabetes means more of a risk for heart disease. So does having high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for many Latinos.

Culture may also play a role. Rich, fatty food combined with little physical activity can lead to obesity. More than 70 percent of Mexican-American adults are overweight or obese. And being overweight is a risk factor for both heart disease and diabetes.

The statistics point to a disturbing trend. But it’s a trend you can help turn around with small lifestyle changes. Learn to make healthy choices, and then pass the knowledge along to your children and grandchildren.

Six things you can do to reduce your risk of diabetes and heart disease:

  1. Know and control your numbers. Find out your blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol numbers. If they are high, take steps to get them under control.
  2. Make healthier food choices. Eat a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and foods low in salt, calories and fat. Teach your kids and grandkids to make healthy choices and prepare healthy meals. Watch your portion sizes. Skip sugary drinks, juice drinks and packaged foods. Make traditional meals and recipes healthier and share these changes with your family.
  3. Get moving. Try to do at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity every week. Also aim to do muscle-strengthening activities at least two days a week. For the most benefit, spread your exercise over several days. Even 10 minutes at a time helps. This can be as simple as a walk around the block, dancing with your partner or tending your garden. Play in the yard with your grandkids. Walk to visit friends and neighbors, or park farther away from church or the grocery store. But make sure to talk to your doctor before you start or increase your activity.
  4. Don’t smoke. If you smoke, get support from your family and friends to quit. Talk to your doctor about programs or medications that can help.
  5. Lose even a few pounds. If you're overweight, losing even 5 percent of your current weight can reduce your risk for diabetes and heart disease. For a 200-pound person, that’s just 10 pounds.
  6. Ask your doctor about aspirin therapy. The American Diabetes Association, American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology recommend that some people with diabetes take aspirin each day. Taking a low-dose aspirin may help some people lower their risks of heart disease or stroke. But it's not safe for everyone. Your doctor can help you decide if aspirin therapy is right for you.

Start a new tradition of good health for yourself and for your family. Cut your risk for diabetes and heart disease with a few manageable steps. Small steps can make big strides toward a long, healthy life for you and generations to come.

Emily A. King contributed to this report.

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