Pants getting tight in the waist? Did you know waist circumference is a better gauge of heart disease risk than body mass index (BMI)? When researchers compared people with the same BMI but different waist sizes, they found people with larger waists were more at risk.
Measurements that signal you are at high risk for heart disease are a waist of 35 or more inches for women and 40 or more inches for men. To accurately measure your waist, wrap a measuring tape around your bare abdomen just above your belly button. Exhale and don’t suck in your stomach or pull the tape real tight.
Why is waist size so important? Generally, as your waist size increases so does the visceral fat you have in your body. Visceral fat surrounds your organs and having more increases your risk of heart disease.
Visceral fat produces hormones and other factors which promote inflammation. Inflammation is a key player in the accumulation of cholesterol plaque inside your arteries. More plaque inside your arteries means higher risk of heart disease.
You have probably heard that people who are pear-shaped (carry more weight in their hips and thighs are less at risk for heart disease. Whereas, an apple-shaped (people who carry their weight in the abdominal area are a greater risk.
Why do some people acquire more visceral fat? For some it is genetic, ethnic, and gender related. Mutations in a particular gene can cause your body to produce more visceral fat than people without that gene. Groups of people with a higher propensity for abdominal fat include natives of India and South Asia. Black women and white men also have a tendency to accumulate more visceral fat.
How do you shed visceral fat? Visceral fat is the first fat you lose when losing weight. If you lose 7% of your excess weight, it will help you lower your risk of heart disease. The best way to reduce visceral fat is to eat fewer carbohydrates and be more physically active. To cut back on foods rich in carbohydrates eat less bread, crackers, potatoes, pasta, rice, cakes, cookies, and candy. These foods trigger your body to produce more insulin which signals your body to store fat.
For physical activity, a combination of strength training and aerobic movement is best. Participate in moderate-intensity exercise for at least 150 minutes a week. Brisk walking and strength training are good examples of activity. Exercises like sit-ups or other abdominal exercises are great, but won’t help get rid of your belly.
So, be physically active and cut back on carbohydrates to reduce your visceral fat and your waist measurement. This will help reduce your risk of heart disease, the number one killer of American women and men.
Author: Pat Brinkman, Extension Educator Family and Consumer Educator, Ohio State University Extension
Reviewer: Cheryl Barber Spires, RD, LD, SNAP-Ed Program Specialist, West Region, Ohio State University Extension
Harvard Medical School, . Harvard Heart Letter, 25(7) 4.