Science tells us that there are many risk factors that increase your likelihood of developing heart disease. Some you can do nothing about, such as your age, your race, your gender, and your genetic background (whether close members of your family had heart problems). Others, such as high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol levels, require a visit to your Delray Beach cardiologists to diagnose and find out whether they put you at increased risk. But one of the most important risk factors for heart disease you can diagnose at home, by simply stepping on to a scale.
Are you overweight?
Society’s definitions and medical science’s definitions of what constitutes being “fat” or “overweight” change over time, and in different circumstances. A person who is “big boned” and six feet tall could weigh 180 pounds and be considered to be of normal weight, whereas someone who is five feet tall and weighs 180 pounds could be considered overweight, possibly even obese. So in this article we’ll use a measure that is more standardized than just weight, the Body Mass Index, or BMI. To calculate your BMI, divide your weight in standard measurements by your height, and then divide the result by your height again. Or use this handy calculator: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/lose_wt/BMI/bmicalc.htm.
Using the BMI standard, if you are 5 feet 10 inches tall and weigh 175 pounds, you have a BMI of 25, which is considered medically to be just at the upper boundary of what is considered “normal” weight. But if you stop watching your diet and add 50 pounds, your BMI becomes 32.3, and qualifies you as “medically obese.” And medically, a higher BMI means that you have a higher risk of heart disease.
What is the relationship between BMI and heart risk?
In one study of over 116,000 nurses, those who had a BMI between 25 and 28.9 were found to be twice as likely to develop heart disease than those with lower BMIs. Nurses in the study who had a BMI over 29 were found to be four times as likely to develop heart disease. The “bottom line” with regard to the relationship of weight/BMI and heart disease is that if you are a man, you suffer a 5% risk increase for every point of BMI over normal, and if you are a woman, you suffer a 7% increase. Another way of saying this is that if you are medically overweight (BMI 25-28.9), your risk of heart failure is 34% higher than if you had a normal BMI. If you are medically obese (BMI >29), your risk of heart failure is 104% higher.
Why does being overweight put more strain on your heart?
The answer is simple – larger bodies require larger amounts of blood to keep them nourished and functioning properly. Larger amounts of blood require your heart to work harder. Instead of beating faster (more beats per minute) to do this, what happens is that your heart has a tendency to grow larger so that it can pump more blood with each beat. The increased flow rate increases pressure within the blood vessels, which manifests as hypertension. And even if your blood pressure doesn’t increase to dangerous levels, as the chambers of your heart grow larger, they lose “pumping power” because your overall amount of heart muscle does not increase as you gain weight. The heart becomes unable to empty itself fully with each beat, blood begins to pool in it, and the result is congestive heart failure.
There are additional syndromes caused by being overweight that can “cascade” and place your heart health in peril. If your extra weight has accumulated around your midsection, for example, that increases your risk the most – add five inches to your waistline, and your heart attack risk doubles (and at the same time makes you more at risk for diabetes, because it blunts the effects of insulin). Extra body fat also makes its way into the bloodstream, which increases your risk of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). And finally, becoming overweight almost always is accompanied by a reduction of the amount of exercise you get, which causes your system to weaken further, and increases your heart risk more.
OK, being overweight is dangerous for my heart – how do I protect myself?
Lose weight. And work with your Palm Beach cardiologist to find ways to keep the extra weight off. The best cardiologists in Palm Beach can help you find diet, exercise, and community support resources to help you achieve your personal weight goals, and thus reduce your risk of heart disease. So call your Palm Beach heart doctors today at 561-515-0080 and start to become both thinner and healthier.