Your waist size may predict heart disease

Weight scales are a standard health tool routinely used in doctor’s offices.  But someday, a measuring tape may be just as routinely used as stepping on a scale in determining our health status. 

A new study from research at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Salt Lake City has shown that our waist size and not just the amount we weigh may actually be a stronger predictor of heart disease.  It’s the amount of weight we carry around our midsection, abdominal obesity, that appears to be linked to coronary atherosclerosis or plaque buildup in the arteries.

Take a good look at yourself in the mirror.  Are you more pear-shaped meaning your weight is distributed primarily from the hips down or are you apple-shaped meaning you carry your weight primarily from the waist up.  This makes a difference in regards to your heart health.  Apple-shaped people will have more abdominal fat or belly fat than pear-shaped people, placing them at a higher risk of hear t disease.  How much is too much?  Take a measuring tape placing it around your midsection around the belly button.  A man should have a waist circumference 40 inches or less while a woman should maintain a waist size of no more than 35 inches. 

Even though it’s been known that waist size or abdominal obesity is linked to heart disease, this new study found that the left ventricle heart function worsened as waist size increased.  The left ventricle is one of the four chambers of the heart and is responsible for pumping oxygenated blood to tissues all over the body.  It’s the heart’s main pumping chamber.  An abnormality in the left ventricle is a common cause of heart disease including congestive heart failure.

What the researchers found was that the left ventricular function got progressively worse as waist sizes got bigger indicating that too much fat in the abdominal area rather than in other areas of the body, is more risky for heart disease.

Excess fat in the abdominal area is harmful to heart functionnot only leading to a higher risk of heart disease but also increasing the chance of developing high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. 

Whether you’re apple- or pear-shaped often depends on many factors:

·         Genetics

·         Menopause - many women will be pear-shaped before menopause but thennotice more weight gain in the abdominal area becoming more apple-shaped after menopause due to fluctuations in hormones.

·         Smoking – smokers have more belly fat even if their total body weight is normal

·         Diet – gaining too much weight due to poor food choices

·         Lack of exercise

·         Gender – when men gain weight, they are almost always carry their weight aroundtheir mid-section.

·         Age – as we age, most weight gained will settle in the abdominal area

How to reduce abdominal fat 

Reducing waist size is imperative to reducing your risk of heart disease.  It won’t happen overnight but the sooner you begin working on whittling your waist, the sooner you begin lessening your chance of developing heart disease.  Here are three ways to help point you in the right direction starting today: 

·         Eat regular, nutritious meals.  It is never a good idea to skip meals.  Doing so often results in hunger pangs flaring causing us to crave high-calorie, convenience foods such as chips, sweets or other food high in fat, sugar, and salt. Having regular meals throughout the day, going no more than 4 hours without eating, helps stabilize blood sugars and keeps our metabolism running more smoothly. 

·         Focus on 30 grams of fiber each day.  That means more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and beans.  These foods are low in calories and fat and they take longer to digest giving us a feeling of fullness.  Aim to eat at least 2 fruits and 2 vegetables, a small handful of nuts and use beans in at least one meal each day.  

·         Make exercise a regular, consistent part of your life.  Any type of exercise is encouraged but the greater the frequency, duration, and type of exercise will enhance weight loss particularly in the abdominal area.