Losing Weight for Heart Health

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Maintaining a healthy weight is important for your overall health and can help prevent conditions such as stroke, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. On top of that, a healthy weight means a healthy heart. In fact, being overweight is a big strain on your heart; the obesity problem in the U.S. is one of the reasons heart disease has become the leading cause of death in our country.

As you get older, your risk for heart disease increases. The good news is you can reduce that risk, even by taking small steps to manage your weight. Once you begin, it can become easier to increase your efforts to lose the weight and keep it off.

The first step is to visit your doctor to determine if your weight is in a healthy range. Your doctor may record your body mass index (BMI), a measure of body fat based on your weight in relation to your height, as well as waist and hip measurements. If you know your weight and height, you can calculate your BMI at the  Centers for Disease Control's Assessing Your Weight Web site.

If your measurements show that you need to drop some excess weight, you can start by doing the following each week:

  • Get moving. Physical activity not only helps you control your weight, it can help prevent other conditions that may put a strain on your heart, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. Start with some simple aerobic activity, like walking or swimming, then add in some muscle-strengthening exercises. Pick an activity you like that you can do often. Just like other challenges in life, having a partner will improve your chances for long-lasting success. The U.S. Surgeon General recommends adults engage in moderate-intensity exercise for 2 hours and 30 minutes every week (you can even break this up into three 10-minute sessions most days of the week).

  • Eat a heart-healthy diet. This includes plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and foods low in saturated fat and cholesterol. Choose foods that are high in fiber, which can help prevent high blood cholesterol. Beans, other low-fat sources of protein, and certain types of fish, such as salmon and mackerel, can also reduce your risk of heart disease. And try to limit the amount of salt or sodium in your diet, which can lower your blood pressure, another risk factor for heart disease.

  • Cut back on alcohol. Heavy drinking (more than three drinks a day) puts you at greater risk for heart disease, raising blood pressure and triglyceride levels and damaging your heart muscle. But moderate drinking (one drink a day for women, two for men) can make you less likely to develop heart disease — even more so than if you don't drink at all (although drinking more than one drink a day increases your risk of certain cancers). Ask your doctor if the heart benefits of moderate drinking outweigh the risks.

  • Up your water intake. Increasing the amount of water you drink can do two things: help you feel full so you’re less hungry at mealtime, and limit the amount of calories you are taking in with other drinks like soda, juice and alcohol.

  • Make time for you. Your weight can be directly related to your stress level. When the stress is piled on, we often resort to unhealthy coping habits, which for many people include eating more (or the wrong kinds of food), drinking more heavily, and exercising less. De-stressing with plenty of down time — for things like meditation, yoga and just relaxing with a good book, warm bath or other fun activity — can help curtail these urges, and also keep your blood pressure under control. 

  • Get more (or better) sleep. Most adults are not getting the seven to nine hours of sleep they need each night, and it’s affecting their health. Lack of sleep can put you at greater risk for obesity and heart attack, as well as high blood pressure, diabetes and depression. Make sleep a priority (as important as work) by turning off the electronics an hour before bedtime and keeping to a set schedule. If you still feel tired during the day, talk to your doctor about what else may be keeping you from getting good quality Z’s.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Nov 24

  1. Heart Disease Risk Factors You Can Control. Womenshealth.gov. http://womenshealth.gov/heart-health-stroke/heart-disease-risk-factors/heart-disease-risk-factors-yo...

  2. Heart Disease Prevention: What You Can Do. Live a Healthy Lifestyle. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/what_you_can_do.htm

  3. Losing Weight. American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/WeightManagement/LosingWeight/Losing-Weight_UCM_307904_...

  4. Strategies to Prevent Heart Disease. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/in-depth/heart-disease-prevention/art-20...

  5. Heart Diseases — Prevention. Medline Plus. https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/heartdiseasesprevention.html

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