Health Features

Help Your Heart by Losing Weight

Maintaining a healthy body weight is at the heart of good cardiovascular health. Extra weight can place a lot of strain on the circulatory system, creating ripple effects that increase your risk for serious health problems, says SLUCare cardiologist Dr. Stephanie Windish.

“When we gain weight, the body has to create more capillaries to supply the added fat and muscle with blood,” she says. “The heart has to increase its mass and work harder to pump the blood to the extra tissue. This increases blood pressure and the metabolic needs of the heart and body.” Extra weight is closely associated with conditions that increase cardiovascular disease risk, like diabetes and high cholesterol, she says. Being obese in itself isn’t one of the risk factors, but it can lead to them.

Windish says patients often state, “I may be overweight, but I’m healthy, so what’s the problem?” She explains that the health effects of extra weight tend to accumulate over time, so they may not be noticeable when you are younger. “As you age, there is a greater chance of developing diabetes and high blood pressure,” she says. “Your arteries become stiffer, and your body reacts differently to the intake of sugars. Older age is actually your highest risk factor.”

She says there are other heart-related conditions people don’t necessarily connect with obesity. “It also can lead to sleep apnea, which causes extra strain on the right side of the heart, which pumps blood to the lungs,” she explains. “Obesity also affects the way the heart muscle relaxes and takes in blood flow. Patients often experience shortness of breath and edema, a condition where fluid accumulates and causes swelling in the body.”

Windish notes that sensible, realistic weight loss is key to keeping the pounds off for better cardiovascular health. “Don’t go on a sudden juice fast or cleanse and expect to be able to run a marathon right off the bat,” she advises. “Instead, set a goal of gradually losing about 10% of your body weight in 6 to 12 months. That may not seem like a lot at first, but you don’t want to make huge changes quickly because they won’t be sustainable.”

According to Windish, the cardiovascular benefits of weight loss are considerable. “When you return to a healthy weight, your blood pressure decreases, sleep apnea can be reversed, and the effects of hypertension and diabetes can be improved as well,” she notes. “Studies show that just a 10-pound weight reduction can correspond to a significant drop in systolic blood pressure. Basically, by returning to a healthy weight, you can take away many of the risk factors for cardiovascular disease that may limit your life.”

She adds that it’s important to be fair with yourself about sticking to a weight reduction plan. “Set a realistic time frame for your goal,” she says. “Say, ‘I want to accomplish X over the next six months or a year,’ and if you fall off the wagon, just get back on again. Don’t worry about health care providers being disappointed in you; they know you’re human and may need to start fresh a couple of times.”

It’s best to have a conversation with your doctor about the type of weight loss program that is right for you and your heart, Windish says. For those with a significant number of pounds to shed, surgical intervention may be needed; others can reduce their weight successfully with good nutrition and exercise. “The plan needs to be tailored to the person,” she says. “A consistent exercise regimen and a well-rounded, plant-based diet with lean proteins are a pretty good foundation for most people.”

6 steps for weight loss success
An effective weight loss plan for better heart health depends on good nutrition, regular exercise and a positive mindset. Here are six guidelines to help ensure positive results.

  • Make sure you’re ready. Ask yourself if you are capable of changing your eating and activity habits for good.
  • Find your inner motivation. Examine your goals for weight loss, and make a list of the reasons that are most important to you.
  • Set realistic goals. It’s sensible to aim for 1 to 2 pounds of weight loss per week over the long term by combining a healthy diet and regular exercise. In general, you need to burn 500 to 1,000 more calories than you consume each day.
  • Enjoy healthier foods. Learn to love nutritious, plant-based foods like vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Variety will help you stick to your plan without giving up flavor.
  • Get active and stay active. It may be possible to lose weight without exercise, but your healthiest bet is to combine regular physical activity with a healthful diet. Any extra movement can help you combat calories.
  • Change your perspective. Good diet and exercise habits should become a way of life. Setbacks may happen, but don’t be discouraged. Losing weight for a healthier heart is a marathon, not a sprint.

Source: Mayo Clinic

interesting facts about weight loss

  • Even a modest loss of 5% to 10% of your total body weight can offer health benefits like improved blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugars.
  • Reducing your weight also can help boost mood, energy, mobility and self-confidence.
  • Healthy weight loss should be gradual. Crash diets are unrealistic and usually unsuccessful in the long term.
  • Creating your own weight loss ‘support group’ can help you reach your goals. Making a major lifestyle change is easier with encouragement from others who are on the same journey.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


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