Sorry to disappoint, but the big O I’m talking about is Obesity. You probably already know that being overweight or obese increases your risk of a multitude of diseases; heart disease is just one, but it’s a biggie. In April 2018 a study was published in JAMA Cardiology that stated overweight or obese adults between the ages of 40 and 59 have a significant increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease in comparison to their normal weight peers. How much more? The risk increase ranged from 21% to 88%. You see, obesity triggers inflammatory processes that harm your cardiovascular system. In fact, the more belly fat you have the greater the inflammation. Being overweight can also lead to structural and functional changes of the heart (think - heart failure, atrial fibrillation etc.).
Men should aim for a waist circumference of less than 40 inches and women should have less than 35 inches. To measure your waist circumference, you want the tape measure to be level with your belly button, for most that will line up with the top of your hip bones. Make sure it’s even all the way around and that you’re not pulling too tight or holding your breath. After you’ve gotten your waist circumference, don’t put the tape measure away quite yet. You’ll want to measure your hip circumference too. A waist-to-hip ratio measurement it believed to be a better indicator of heart attack risk than body mass index (BMI) for both men and women. You can plug your waist and hip circumference into this calculator to calculate your risk.
What are the signs and symptoms of heart disease you should keep an eye out for?
Fatigue. As vague as that sounds if you feel really worn out it, lethargic and have a lot of daytime sleepiness (you find you’re craving sleep during the daytime) it could be a sign of heart failure, where your heart muscles just aren’t working as well as they should.
Aches and Pains. Chest pain, jaw paint, shoulder pain, back pain, stomach pain, nausea or gastric upset especially if it occurs during exertion or exercise and disappears when you rest. This could be a sign of coronary artery disease and you’ll want to see medical attention right away.
Shortness of breath. You may rationalize that being short of breath is simply the result of being out of shape, but it could also indicate heart trouble, especially if it comes on when you walk up some stairs or an incline. This can be especially concerning if it hasn’t happened before when you’ve taken the stairs or walked up a hill. Of course, shortness of breath when you lie down can also be a concern, so if you’re experiencing any shortness of breath, talk to your doctor.
Swollen feet or ankles. If you look down and see “cankles” instead of ankles it could be a sign of heart failure (among other things), so it’s best to see your doctor.
Heart palpitations. If you feel a sudden rapid or irregular heartbeat, like your heart is skipping beats you’ll want to talk to your doctor as you may be experiencing a cardiac arrhythmia.
I really want people to understand the signs and symptoms of heart disease, because in the US, heart disease accounts for 1 in every 4 deaths and is the leading cause of death of both men and women. Coronary heart disease is the most common of heart diseases and kills over 370K people annually (in the US). And with someone having a heart attack every 40 second it’s important to know the major symptoms: Chest pain/discomfort, upper body pain such as pain in arms, back, neck, jaw, or upper stomach, shortness of breath, nausea, light-headedness or a cold sweat. If you or someone you know is experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s best to dial 911 or go to your closest emergency room.
Now that I’ve talked about the risk’s obesity has on heart disease you may be looking to shave off some pounds. To do this you’ll need to figure out how much you should eat to start. This is a moving target based on your age, weight, height and activity level, so try out the Calorie Counter. This will show you how many calories you should consume to enable weight loss.
However, a couple words of caution. I would encourage you to talk to your Provider before embarking on any weight loss plan, especially if you take medications, as dosages will likely need to be adjusted as your weight and/or dietary consumption changes. Also, consider working with a licensed nutritionist or other health professional if you need help figuring out what to eat to ensure a balanced diet that wouldn’t lead to nutritional deficiencies or adverse health effects which can undermine your weight loss and health goals; as all calories are not created equal.
As I mentioned in my blog titled, "The Heartbreaker - Inflammation" , I talk about the Mediterranean Diet (Med-diet) being the most studied and powerful when it comes to helping reduce heart disease (along with other diseases). If you haven't read it yet, let me give you the cliff note version. The core foods that make up the Med-diet are: whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, herbs, and olive oil, with fish and seafood (e.g. tuna, salmon, sardines, mussels, oysters, shrimp) added in a couple times a week. In small amounts, yogurt, cheese, poultry, and eggs are eaten regularly. Whereas, red meat and/or sweets are sometimes eaten, but usually reserved for special occasions.
Does your weight put you at risk for heart disease?
Do you have any signs or symptoms of heart disease?
What are some strategies you can take to reduce your weight?