Did you know that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and more lives are claimed from cardiovascular diseases than all forms of cancer combined? In fact, in the US, someone has a heart attack every 34 seconds, and every minute someone dies from a heart disease-related event.
These statistics are very alarming, but the good news is there are many things you can do to reduce your risk - or even reverse the effects of - cardiovascular disease, which includes getting your weight under control. Before reviewing how weight impacts your cardiac health, we need to first understand the heart’s role and functions.
Your body needs the heart to survive much the same way a car needs an engine to run. This muscular organ pumps blood through a system of blood vessels that stretches more than 60,000 miles (that’s long enough to travel around the world more than twice!). Blood keeps us alive by carrying fresh oxygen and nutrients to, and removing waste from, all parts of the body. Think of it as the oil that keeps the car moving. As long as the oil is plentiful and free flowing, the vehicle will get you where you need to go.
When people have heart disease, the blood does not flow as smoothly as that of a person in good health. The reason for this is due to something called “plaque buildup” in the arteries. Plaque is a combination of cholesterol, fat, calcium, and other substances that causes the arteries to harden and narrow.
The primary causes of heart disease are smoking and obesity. When it comes to obesity, excess weight, particularly belly fat, is very dangerous to the heart. This fat around the abdomen produces hormones and other substances that interfere with normal blood vessel activity by clogging the arteries. Clogged arteries can happen anywhere in the body, from your toes all the way to the brain. Let’s take a look at some of the risks they pose throughout the body.
Heart Attack. The heart pumps blood through the body, but it also needs a supply of its own, and the coronary arteries fill that need. If plaque buildup ruptures in this artery, the blockage prevents blood from reaching part of the heart muscle. Without blood, the muscle is starved for oxygen, causing damage to the heart. The heart attack occurs because the injured heart can no longer pump properly.
Stroke. A stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is interrupted. That can happen if a blood vessel breaks or gets blocked by a clot. When someone has a stroke, brain cells in the immediate area begin to die because they stop getting the oxygen or nutrients they need.
Peripheral Artery Disease. This occurs when clogged arteries in the lower extremities restrict blood flow. You may experience pain in your legs, feet, or buttocks and in some serious cases develop ulcers or gangrene.
What can you do to reduce plaque in the arteries and improve heart health?
If you smoke, it’s very important to find a program to help you quit. Your body starts to heal immediately as soon as you stop smoking, so the sooner you do it, the better. If you have a BMI of 26 or greater, you need to start taking steps to reduce your weight now.
Did you know that just 5% weight loss starts to produce significant health benefits? For example, if you weigh 200 pounds that means you only need to lose 10 pounds to start to reduce health risks associated with your weight including heart disease. And once you start to feel the effects of initial weight loss, you’ll want to keep going to reap all of those wonderful benefits of living with a healthy weight, like lower blood pressure, balanced cholesterol, less chronic pain, and even discontinuation of medications for a number of chronic conditions.
Studies have shown promising results those who have lost modest amounts of weight and improved heart health. In a report published by The American Heart Association, participants who were able to lose between 5 to 10 percent of their body weight were able to significantly lower their risk for heart disease and diabetes. Another study from Duke University found that moderate exercise for eight months could reduce visceral fat.
If you want to keep your engine running smoothly, think seriously about the ways you can get started with weight loss. Your heart is counting on it.