BHealthy Blog

Your Waistline and Your Heart

Doctor measuring patient waistline
If you are trying to lose weight for heart health, new research shows that your waist size may be more important than your weight for your heart attack risk. Plus, heart attack survivors who carry extra weight around their belly are at higher risk of another heart attack, new research has found—another reason why measuring your waist may be more important than stepping on the scale.

What if you are slim except around your belly?

Having a “pot belly,” even if you are slim, increases your odds of having a heart attack. The latest study, published in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology, is the first time researchers have also found a link between belly fat and the risk of having additional heart attacks or stroke after the first.

Does it impact men differently than women?

The link was stronger for men. Abdominal obesity not only increases your risk for a first heart attack or stroke, but also the risk for recurrent heart attacks or stroke. This could be because of the type of fat that tends to be on men’s and women’s bellies. Some studies have suggested that men may have more visceral fat, a type of fat that goes deep inside your body and wraps around your vital organs. This fat can be turned into cholesterol that can start hardening your arteries, leading to a heart attack or stroke. In women, often more of the abdominal fat is subcutaneous fat, a type of fat that is less harmful.

Does the medicine you take make a difference?

Maintaining a healthy waist size is important for preventing future heart attacks and strokes, regardless of how many medicines you take or how healthy your blood tests are.

At what point is your waistline harmful?

The risk of cardiovascular disease like heart attacks or strokes is shown to be higher in men with a waist measurement of above 94 cm (just over 37 inches) and above 80 cm (almost 31.5 inches) in women, according to the World Health Organization. The risk is thought to be much higher in men with a waist wider than 102 cm (just over 40 inches) and 88 cm in women (just over 34.5 inches).
To improve your waistline, belly fat is best tackled by a healthy diet and regular exercise. Earlier studies have shown that regular moderate cardiovascular activity, like walking for at least 30 minutes a day, can also help. Strength training with weights may help, but spot exercises like sit-ups that can tighten your abs will not affect this type of fat.
To learn more about heart health, visit our Health Library.