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Weight & Waistlines: Heart Disease Risk Factors

What's weight got do to with heart disease? Plenty!

Special Risks for Women

What may be even more important -- particularly for women -- is what doctors call "visceral" fat. This is the fat that lies beneath the muscle, and is frequently wrapped around internal organs. It is often found in people with large midsections.

In a study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, doctors found that middle aged women who carried more visceral fat in their tummy region were at higher risk for metabolic syndrome -- a constellation of conditions that include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and insulin resistance, all leading to a higher risk of heart disease.

A Danish study published in the journal Circulation showed a woman was nearly five times more likely to die of heart disease if she had both a large waist and a high level of fat in her blood.

Losing a Little Gets You a Lot

The good news is that losing weight can make a huge difference: often it can dramatically reduce the risk factors associated with heart disease.

Even better news: Even a small weight loss can help.

"Even a minimal weight loss can make an enormous difference. Your blood pressure will drop, your lipid profile [cholesterol] will get better. It's remarkable how much good you can do for your body by just shedding a few pounds," says cardiologist Chuck McCauley, MD, director of the Marshfield Healthy Lifestyles Program in Marshfield, Wis.

Indeed, McCauley says drop just 10 or 15 pounds and watch your blood pressure drop 10 or 15 points. Cholesterol levels, he says, respond even better. "I've seen people drop their LDL [bad cholesterol] from 160 down to 90 or 100 just by losing 10 pounds," he says.

If, at the same time you can also whittle down your waistline and reduce your total BMI (body mass index) so much the better. "Every inch and every pound you lose can add years to your life," McCauley says.

But what are the ideal numbers? According to the National Institutes of Health, a BMI that falls between 18.5 and 24.9 is considered normal. For example, a man who is 5-feet-11-inches tall and weighs 170 pounds would be on the upper end of end of the scale -- with a BMI of near 24. A woman who is 5-feet-4-inches tall and weighs 110 pounds would be on the lower end of the scale with a BMI of about 19.

Likewise, a man or woman who is 5-feet-8-inches tall and weighs 230 pounds has a BMI of around 35 is considered obese.

When it comes to waistline goals, study results vary. Some indicate that for best health men should aim for a waistline of 34 inches or less; other research indicates that a waistline below 39 inches is OK. For women, studies indicate the safest waistline for heart health is below 29 inches, but some research has found that waistlines under 33 inches are OK.

Now if you think it's going to require six days of aerobics each week to accomplish this, you may be surprised to learn that one of the most passive forms of exercise is also the most effective for getting rid of that spare tire.

That exercise is yoga. In research published in the journal Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine," doctors from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center found that just 30 minutes of yoga once a week could prevent middle-aged spread in normal weight folk. It also helped those who are overweight to lose those extra pounds.

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