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If you’re interested in the connection between weight and coronary heart disease, you’ve come to the right place. Learn more about obesity and cardiovascular risk, hypertension and weight, and how you may be able to improve heart health by maintaining a healthy weight.
Heart failure, also known as congestive heart failure, is a chronic condition in which the heart doesn’t pump blood as well as it should. The heart may become enlarged or pump faster to compensate, causing fatigue and breathing problems.
In a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology: Heart Failure, the authors reported that those who were the most obese and had the highest levels of troponin, an enzyme released by injured heart muscle cells, were nine times more likely to develop heart failure than those of normal weight with undetectable troponin levels.
The upshot? Even a little excess weight can have a big impact on your heart—and your cardiovascular health.
What happens to your heart when you lose weight?
Even small changes can make a big difference. In a 2016 study in Translational Behavioral Medicine, researchers found that patients who lost even 5–10% of their body weight showed significant reductions in triglycerides, total cholesterol, and LDL cholesterol.
"Five to 10 % weight losses produced improvements in cardiovascular risk factors, but greater weight losses were associated with even greater improvement."
And in an article in Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases, the authors note, “Intentional weight loss, accomplished through behavioral weight loss and exercise, improves insulin sensitivity and associated cardio-metabolic risk factors such as lipid measures, blood pressure, measures of inflammation and vascular function both in healthy individuals and patients with coronary heart disease. Additionally, physical fitness, physical function and quality of life all improve.”
The takeaway? Moderate weight loss can have a big impact on the heart.
What is the optimal weight to help prevent cardiovascular disease?
The short answer: It’s complicated. While some body fat is essential, too much of it may increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Many experts suggest aiming for a body mass index (BMI) within the healthy weight range: between 18.5 and 24.9 for an adult 20 years of age or older. But you should know that BMI doesn’t tell the whole story: other factors, such as age and gender, also play a role in weight. Knowing your body composition may give you a more complete picture of your health.
A side note: Some researchers believe that prevention efforts should focus less on BMI and more on underlying societal and environmental causes of obesity. In an article published in The BMJ, the authors write:
“Although the health hazards of obesity have been clearly established, exactly where healthy weight ends and unhealthy weight begins is a matter of controversy.”
One thing we do know: as we mentioned earlier, location matters. Excess abdominal or visceral fat-—the fat that wraps around your organs—can be dangerous, increasing insulin resistance and other cardiovascular risk factors. In a report in Circulation entitled “Body Fat Distribution and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease: An Update,” the author notes, “On the other hand, visceral adipose tissue and liver fat may be key drivers of plasma markers of the cardiometabolic risk profile, such as insulin resistance, glucose intolerance, [and] inflammation.”
So if you’re gaining weight, keep an eye on where you’re gaining it, and consider tracking your body composition to see a more complete picture. If you have concerns, ask your doctor.
How to watch your weight
If you’re overweight or obese, weight loss may seem daunting. But we have some suggestions that might help.
Know your numbers
Knowing your BMI, blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol and monitoring them regularly can help you to stay on track, and alert your doctor if you see something you’re concerned about.
Know your symptoms
Knowing your numbers is important, but it’s also good to keep an eye on your symptoms. For example, symptoms of hypertension include shortness of breath, an irregular heartbeat, chest pains, headaches, nausea, and dizziness. Symptoms of heart disease in women may be a little different. If you experience anything new or unusual, it might be a good idea to check in with your doctor.
Make small, sustainable changes
Even a little weight loss can help to improve your health, and setting a realistic weight loss goal can help. Many experts suggest aiming for 1 to 2 pounds per week—which may not sound like much, but can really add up over time. If it’s easier, you may wish to set a process goal instead—for example, walking 7,000–10,000 steps per day. In short, set a weight goal for a healthy heart.
In the study, researchers found that people whose weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels fluctuated were 127 percent more likely to die.
They were also 43 percent more likely to have a heart attack and 41 percent more likely to have a stroke. So, instead of aiming for drastic weight changes, it’s better to look for easy lifestyle alterations that you can stick to.
Whether you’re trying to reach an optimal weight, maintain a healthy weight, or achieve moderate weight loss, staying active is really important.
In a Withings study, we found that users who logged 4,000 steps or fewer had an average systolic blood pressure of 127, versus 123 for those logging at least 12,000 steps a day. We also found that sedentary users also logged an average heart rate 7% higher than more active users.
The bottom line
When it comes to weight and cardiovascular disease, there’s a lot you can do to reduce excess weight risk and improve heart health. If you’re worried about weight and the risk of heart failure, there are steps you may be able to take to control it. Know your numbers, understand weight loss effects on the heart, consider losing weight or preventing weight gain, and most importantly, check with your doctor.
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