Skip to content

    Heart Disease Health Center

    Font Size

    Your Waistline and Heart Disease: What's the Link?

    By Janie McQueen
    WebMD Feature

    Lose weight. You hear this advice all the time. But did you know that where your body stores those extra pounds matters for your heart health, too?

    “A thicker waistline increases heart attack risk,” says Nieca Goldberg, MD, medical director of the New York University Langone Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health.

    Recommended Related to Heart Disease

    Understanding Heart Disease -- the Basics

    The human heart is built for amazing endurance, but like any other part of the body, it is vulnerable to breakdowns. Heart problems vary widely in their nature and severity. They may be transient or chronic, slow-developing or sudden, merely inconvenient or fatal. Some types of heart disease, closely linked to diet and lifestyle choices, are preventable; others are due to heredity, infections, or other uncontrollable factors. One out of every three Americans will ultimately die of heart disease...

    Read the Understanding Heart Disease -- the Basics article > >

    Stomach fat is linked to high blood sugar, increased blood pressure, and raised levels of triglycerides, a type of fat in your blood. “All of these are major risk factors for heart disease,” Goldberg says.

    So what makes an expanding waistline a problem for your heart?

    It’s About Location

    Belly fat, also called visceral fat, is closer to internal organs, says Sonya Angelone, a cardiovascular nutrition expert in San Francisco.

    This type of fat can be related to hormones, like those that kick in at menopause. That's when many women start seeing their tummies thicken.

    Tension Plays a Role, Too

    Your body also makes a "stress hormone" called cortisol, “which increases belly fat,” Angelone says. It narrows blood vessels and raises your BP to boost blood flow. Your body needs this in times of high stress. But too much cortisol can lead to blood vessel damage and plaque buildup, so it’s hard on your heart.

    It can also lead to weight gain. The process draws fat from storage and sends it to your midsection. This has an inflammatory effect that can lead to heart problems, too.

    It's a good idea to keep your stress levels down. Stay calm the best way you know how, or try out calming techniques like yoga and meditation.

    Make Over Your Diet

    These ticker-friendly tips can also help you watch your weight:

    Look out for sneaky sugar. Did you know there's some in booze, for instance? “Alcohol is sugar,” Goldberg says. Same goes for sodas and sports drinks.

    Swap fruits. Go for strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries instead of high-sugar bananas and grapes. They can quell your cravings just as well.

    Watch the whites. Avoid bread and white-flour foods, like white rice. Brown rice and multigrain versions are better for you, but eat them in moderation, Goldberg says.

    Today on WebMD

    x-ray of human heart
    A visual guide.
    atrial fibrillation
    Symptoms and causes.
    heart rate graph
    10 things to never do.
    heart rate
    Get the facts.
    empty football helmet
    red wine
    eating blueberries
    Simple Steps to Lower Cholesterol
    Inside A Heart Attack
    Omega 3 Sources
    Salt Shockers
    lowering blood pressure