Abdominal obesity is hard on your heart


Abdominal obesity is hard on your heart

Excess weight around your waistline is no friend to your heart. While those who tend to gain pounds distributed on their hips, thighs, and buttocks – “pear-shaped” - may not have as great of a risk to heart health, others with an “apple-shape” body, are not as lucky.  The unhealthy “apple-shaped” profile – weight gained predominately from the waist up – has been shown to increase one’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease resulting in a heart attack or stroke.

For decades, the U.S. population has steadily gained weight.  As an example, the latest statistics from the CDC show that the average waist circumference of men was 39 inches in 1999-2000. But today, men’s average waist circumference is now 40.2 inches.  Women fare no better.  In 1999-2000, women’s average waist circumference was 36.3 inches while today (2015-2016), its risen to 38.6 inches.

Why excess abdominal weight gain harms heart health

Weight gained in the abdominal area is primarily due to the fact that belly fat, is different from fat that accumulates in the hips and thighs.  Visceral fat is found deep within the abdominal cavity surrounding the space between organs. When these fat cells of visceral fat break down, they distribute the portal vein with free fatty acids and other substances. This effect is known as “lipotoxicity” impacting the nearby pancreas reducing its ability to produce insulin, the hormone that helps take glucose from the bloodstream into the body cells for energy. Because of lipotoxicity, insulin resistance is likely to occur, making it difficult for the body’s muscle and liver cells to respond adequately to normal levels of insulin. Blood glucose levels remain high due to this scenario and thus a person has a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Visceral fat also increases the chance of the release of inflammatory substances called cytokines. The development of atherosclerosis or the buildup of plaque and an underlying cause of heart disease, can be due to the cytokines.

Who is at risk?

There are certain individuals who are more vulnerable to accumulating excess belly fat or visceral fat. Reasons can vary but genetics, ethnic background and gender, all influence this accumulation of excess abdominal fat. The least likely individuals to develop excess belly fat are those who live in the Mediterranean region and follow the Mediterranean diet. Those having a higher incidence of heart disease include Native Americans, Pima Indians, Hispanics, and people living in India and South Asia.  These individuals have a higher likelihood of abdominal obesity and type 2 diabetes. In addition, white men and black women are more likely to accumulate more visceral or abdominal fat compared with black men and white women.

How to measure your midsection

There are two ways to measure your midsection to determine if you have excess abdominal obesity.  They are waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio.

To accurately measure waist circumference, use a cloth measuring tape, exhale and wrap the tape around your bare abdomen just above the upper border of your hipbone, which you can feel on both sides of your body. While measuring, do not suck in your gut or pull the tape tight to squeeze the area.

To figure your waist-to-hip ratio, first measure your hips by putting the tape measure around the widest part of your buttocks.  Keep the tape measure level. Then divide your waist circumference or size by your hip size. 

These measurements would signal a high risk to heart health:

                     Waist circumference (inches)                         Waist-to-hip ratio

Women -                35 inches or more                                         0.9 or more

Men                        40 inches or more                                         1.0 or more

How to control and reduce abdominal weight

Everyone is different when it comes to weight loss and burning belly fat. What works for one person may not necessarily work for another.  Sometimes it takes some trial and error to figure out what works for you to reduce belly fat and lose some inches.  Often, it depends on a variety of factors that when incorporated daily, will make it more likely for you to be successful at burning off belly fat for good and good for your overall health.

Here are 10 ways to get you started:

1.     Increase protein intake – At each meal eat between 25-30 grams of protein.  Protein helps to maintain muscle mass meaning you’ll burn more calories.  And protein provides satiety preventing us from overeating.

2.     Get to moving – There is no way to burn belly fat unless you exercise.  Exercise must be done consistently and on a regular basis in order to be effective.  Every little movement you make during the day helps. 

3.     Do a variety of exercises – Physical activity is not just simply walking for 30 minutes, 3 times a week.  That is a great start but variety is the name of the game.  Keep on walking, but also add in lifting weights, yoga, sprints, jogging, bicycling, or swimming.

4.     Reduce carbohydrates – On the one hand we need carbs as it’s our body’s main fuel source.  But too many carbs can result in excess weight gain.  Carbs break down into glucose and excess glucose is stored in your fat tissue.  For weight and belly fat loss, women should aim for between 30-45 grams of carbohydrates at each meal and men between 45-60 grams of carbohydrates at each meal.   A snack should contain between 15-30 grams of carbohydrates. Find out the number of carbohydrates in foods by looking at the Nutrition Facts label under “Total Carbohydrates.”  Also choose healthy carbohydrate foods and reduce intake of refined and processed carbohydrate foods.

5.     Read Nutrition Facts Labels – The Nutrition Facts Labels is your window to what’s in your food.  Avoid foods where the words ‘sugar,” “high fructose corn syrup,” or “brown sugar,” -as examples – are  listed within the first three ingredients. 

6.     Make your workouts more challenging – If you do the same exercise routine day in and day out, it’s time to make it more challenging.  Walk an extra 5 minutes or put in a few more extra reps when lifting weights. Extra effort pays off as your body will start burning more calories from one workout to the next. 

7.     Use a smaller dinner plate – The average American dinner plate is about 12 inches in diameter.  Use instead dinner plates that measure no more than 10 inches in diameter.  This one small step will force you to reduce portion sizes of food reducing calories reducing belly fat. 

8.     Never skip meals – During your waking hours, eat at least every 4-5 hours. Keep a consistent pattern of eating breakfast, lunch, dinner to avoid slowing down your metabolism and getting your body into a rhythm of eating.

9.     Pump iron – Just 10 minutes a day of lifting weights, three days a week will do wonders for your waistline.  A Harvard research team found that 20 minutes of weight training three times a week had a greater reduction on waist size than almost any other variable.

10.  Drink water before a meal – Before each meal drink a tall glass of water.  The water will take up room in your stomach, making you feel fuller and cuts your appetite.