One in every four deaths in the United States is caused by heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and it is the leading cause of death for both men and women. While certain medical conditions increase your risk of heart disease, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, lifestyle choices, including overweight and obesity, are also risk factors. If you want to improve your heart health and function, losing weight can help.
Your heart is a muscle that is responsible for pumping oxygen and nutrient-rich blood throughout your body. It is about the size of your fist, weighing about 1 pound, and is located in the center of your chest slightly to the left. The heart is divided into two parts, left and right. Oxygen-poor blood enters the right side of the heart, where it is then sent to the lungs to become oxygenated. From the lungs, the oxygen-rich blood enters the left side of the heart and is pumped to the rest of your body.
Weight and Heart Health
Carrying excessive weight increases your risk of heart failure. For every one-point increase in your body mass index, or BMI, there is a 5 to 7 percent increase in heart failure, according to HeartHealthyWomen.org. Excess weight causes your heart to work harder to pump blood throughout your body, leading to a thickened and expanded heart chamber. After a while, your heart's ability to fill and pump blood becomes limited, and may ultimately lead to heart failure. In addition, overweight and obesity increases your chances of developing other heart disease risk factors, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.
Weight Loss and Heart Function
Weight reduction improves heart function, according to a 2009 study published in the "Journal of the American College of Cardiology." This two-year study followed 60 moderately obese patients on a weight-reduction program that included a low-calorie diet and exercise plan and its effects on heart structure and function. At the start of the study, using echocardiography and ultrasound imaging, the investigators found that the study participants' hearts were slightly thickened, and contraction and relaxation of the heart muscle was abnormal. After six to 12 months following the weight-loss program, the investigators saw a decrease in the thickening of the heart walls and an improvement in its pumping. Blood pressure and triglyceride levels also improved.
Diet and Exercise
If you need to lose weight to improve your heart function, you need to make changes to your diet and exercise routine. To lose weight you need to watch your portions and include more low-calorie foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean sources of protein and low-fat dairy products. You also need to engage in regular physical activity. The American Heart Association recommends you aim for 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity, such as walking or jogging, five days a week. For safety, you should consult your doctor before making changes to your diet or starting an exercise program.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Heart Disease Facts
- Salina Regional Health Center: Heart Function, Disease and Treatment
- HeartHealthyWomen.org: Overweight, Obesity and Heart Failure
- Washington University in St. Louis: Moderate Weight Loss in Obese People Improves Heart Function
- Journal of the American College of Cardiology: Effect of Moderate Diet-Induced Weight Loss and Weight Regain on Cardiovascular Structure and Function
- American Heart Association: Healthy Diet Goals
- American Heart Association: American Heart Association Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults
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