Whittle Your Waist, Help Your Heart

Standing in line at the supermarket, you’ve undoubtedly reached for a magazine with a headline inviting you to find out your body shape. Are you a pear, a square, an apple or some other interesting combination of shapes?

These attention-grabbing articles often reveal what clothes you should wear to minimize “trouble spots,” where you carry the most body fat.

Body Shape and Your Heart

But, a recently published study by Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Utah and Johns Hopkins University reveals there’s more to body shape than just appearance. Researchers now say where you carry your fat can affect your health.

The study, released at the American College of Cardiology Scientific Session held in Chicago earlier this year, found that diabetics with larger waist circumferences – as seen in apple-shaped bodies – run a higher risk of developing heart disease than do individuals with more fat around their hips or elsewhere in their body, regardless of their overall body weight or body mass index (BMI).

Researchers measured the waist circumference of 200 men and women with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. They then used echocardiograms, or ultrasounds of the heart, to determine the heart function of each person. They found that as waist circumference increased in both men and women, the function of the left ventricle declined, with a leveling off at a waist circumference of 45 inches.

Risks of More Belly Fat

“These findings really aren’t that surprising,” said Jose Vazquez, M.D., a Baptist Health Medical Group physician with Baptist Health Primary Care. “We have known that abdominal fat is a risk factor for diabetes, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease and high cholesterol, among other conditions.”

Joshua Harris, M.D., a cardiologist affiliated with Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute at South Miami Hospital added that belly fat is also seen in patients with metabolic syndrome, which combines all the aforementioned conditions and is fueled by being overweight or obese and leading a sedentary lifestyle.

Abdominal Fat and Heart Function

“What’s new about this study is the measurable effect that abdominal fat has on the left ventricle,” Dr. Vazquez said. “We see the risk for heart failure increases with a greater amount of fat around the waist, as the blood that’s supposed to be sent throughout the body backs up into the lungs.”

According to Dr. Harris, the left ventricle plays an important role in pumping blood. “When the left ventricle has to work harder to pump blood throughout the body, we often see the heart increase in size or thickness to compensate for the lack of function. And as your heart has to push that blood harder to reach those more remote areas of your body, your blood vessels become weakened or damaged, setting the stage for plaque buildup and blockages,” he said.

While this latest research studied diabetics only because of their risk of heart disease, both doctors say a logical next step is to study the effect of waist size on patients without diabetes to see if the same findings apply to the general population.

Reducing Your Risk

In the meantime, Dr. Vazquez says it’s best to get rid of belly fat, since science has proven that many health conditions are linked to unhealthy lifestyles. And, this latest study concluded that maintaining a waist size of 34 inches or less in women and 40 inches or less in men greatly reduced the chances of developing these conditions.

To whittle your waist size, he recommends 25 to 30 minutes of aerobic exercise, at least four times a week. This will help burn fat and build cardiovascular endurance. He also prescribes a low-fat, low-sugar diet and quitting smoking, since smokers tend to have more belly fat.

Dr. Harris agrees. “Fat is fat, no matter where it’s located in your body,” he said. “It’s better all around to have less fat so your heart can work more efficiently.”

An added bonus? You won’t need “expert” tips from supermarket magazines on how to improve your appearance.


Shape Up With A Free Body Fat Composition Analysis

If you are age 21 and over, get a free detailed Body Fat Composition Analysis, which evaluates the percentage of body fat versus lean muscle mass and bone. It’s safe, noninvasive and painless.

  • Offer valid June 1, 2016 – January 31, 2017, at any Baptist Health Medical Plaza in Miami-Dade or Broward County. A doctor’s prescription is required.
  • To make an appointment or for more information, call 786-573-6000 in Miami-Dade or 954-837-1000 in Broward, email or visit

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With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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