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Angela Bassett Wants to Help You Manage Diabetes and Stay Heart Healthy

Actress Angela Bassett has dazzled on the screen over the past three decades, appearing in films like “What’s Love Got to Do with It?” “Black Panther,” and “How Stella Got Her Groove Back.” Now she’s using her platform to raise awareness of a health crisis close to her and her family: diabetes.

Why is it important to know about the link between type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke right now?

What we are experiencing across the world right now is unprecedented. While we are rightly focused on making our way through the coronavirus pandemic and addressing inequities, we can’t lose sight of health threats like cardiovascular diseases, which is a leading cause of death for people in the United States. People with diabetes are at double the risk for heart disease and stroke and they may have a higher rate of serious complications from the coronavirus. If there’s good news, it’s that managing your glucose levels and living a healthy lifestyle can help in both cases.

What are some things people can do to manage their risk for heart disease and stroke?

All of us should look at our lifestyles and see if there are ways to improve our heart health, like increasing physical activity, eating better, quitting smoking, or managing stress. Next, know and manage your blood pressure, blood cholesterol, blood glucose, and body weight. If you have been prescribed medication, take it like you’re supposed to! Finally, if you’re living with type 2 diabetes, talk to your doctor at your earliest opportunity about ways to reduce your risk for heart disease and stroke.

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How do you maintain a heart-healthy lifestyle? What can others do?

As an actress, I stay in shape for roles that may come up quickly, so I keep up a routine of regular exercise and healthy eating with a plant-forward eating pattern. I try to avoid ultra-processed foods and opt for lean proteins like fish that are lower in saturated fat. I’ve also been known to sneak in vegetables like sweet potatoes and black beans in dishes where you wouldn’t expect them. Shhh, don’t tell my kids! There are great recipes at KnowDiabetesbyHeart.org if you’re looking for some healthy inspiration in the kitchen.

Do you find that people are surprised that diabetes dramatically increases their risk for heart disease?

I don’t know if they are surprised, but people may not think about it until they develop heart disease or have a stroke. That’s how it was with my mother. We were dealing with the daily management of type 2 diabetes and trying to make her comfortable, and heart failure wasn’t on our radar. Now I know that people living with type 2 diabetes are two times more likely to develop and die from cardiovascular disease like heart failure, heart attack, or stroke. Only about half of people age 45 and older with type 2 diabetes understand their increased risk for developing heart disease or have discussed their risk with their doctor. That’s what we’re trying to change through Know Diabetes by Heart.

How does your mother’s history with type 2 diabetes and heart disease impact your family today?

My uncle Ralph, who is my mother’s brother and our family patriarch, is living with type 2 diabetes, and I’ve talked to him about the connection to heart disease and helped him talk with his doctor about how to reduce his risk. When we get together as a family, we make sure to support his nutrition needs — it’s good, healthy food for those of us without type 2 diabetes, too! Instead of sitting around after we eat, we’ll go for a walk or even have a dance party. It’s fun to be healthy together. As people became more homebound this spring due to COVID-19, I saw more families outside exercising together. I hope people keep up with those new healthy habits.

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