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Atherosclerosis: What’s Weight Got to Do With It?

Losing weight doesn't just make you look and feel better. It also makes good things happen inside your arteries.

Your arteries carry blood from your heart to the rest of your body. Your coronary arteries are especially important, since they supply your heart muscle with blood.

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To do that work, your arteries need to be healthy. If they become narrower and less flexible because plaque is building up inside them, that's atherosclerosis. It's very risky, because it can lead to a heart attack or stroke.

Extra pounds make atherosclerosis more likely. So getting in shape is one of the best things you can do for your heart.

Atherosclerosis and Fat

It's not just about the numbers on your scale. Where your fat is located also matters.

Get out a tape measure and measure your waist at the belly button. You're more likely to have atherosclerosis if you're a woman with a waist larger than 35 inches or a man with a waist that's 40 inches or more.

You need some fat to be healthy, but if you have too much of it, the lining of your arteries doesn't work as well as it should. That makes atherosclerosis more likely.

Too much fat also raises your risk of blood clots, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke.

Lose Weight, Lower Your Risk

Losing extra weight lowers your chances of having a heart attack, stroke, and circulation problems.

Many of the things you do to lose weight, like being active and eating healthy foods, make a big difference. You'll get:

  • Healthier, more "elastic" blood vessels
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Higher levels of "good" (HDL) cholesterol
  • Lower levels of "bad" (LDL) cholesterol
  • Lower chance of getting type 2 diabetes

Ask your doctor what your goal weight should be, what diet guidelines he recommends (like limits on salt and fat), what types of exercise are OK for you to do, and how soon you'll see results.

Also, if you smoke, do everything you can to kick the habit. Smoking makes atherosclerosis more likely. If you already have atherosclerosis, smoking makes it worse. Avoid other people's smoke (secondhand smoke), too.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on August 14, 2014

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