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New Ulm Medical Center

Myths and Facts about Weight and Your Heart Health

February is Heart Health Month! It’s a great time to think about your heart health — and that of your loved ones, too. One very important thing you can do to help keep your heart healthy is to maintain a healthy weight. However, it seems people often have misperceptions about why. Here we share some common myths about weight management and your risk for heart disease or a heart attack.

Myth: People who weigh the same have the same risk for a heart attack.

Fact: Your weight and your Body Mass Index (BMI) do not tell the whole story about how healthy you are. Two people with same BMI can be at completely different risk levels for a heart attack. Each person may have other risk factors, but one person may also have more fat throughout their body than the other, or more fat around their waist.

The amount of visceral fat accumulated in your waist near your muscles and internal organs increases your risk. This means people with larger waists are at higher risk for a heart attack; specifically, men with a waist larger than 40 inches and women with a waist larger than 35 inches. The fat accumulated on your legs, hips and arms does not add to your risk for a heart attack.

  • In one study, people who were of normal weight but had a paunch — that is, a lot of visceral or belly fat — were twice as likely to die early as people of normal weight without a belly. People with lots of concentrated belly fat also had a higher risk of death than people who were simply obese with fat mainly in their legs, hips and arms.

Myth: People who are overweight need to lose a lot of weight to improve their heart health.

Fact: Even a little weight loss goes a long way. By losing just 5 percent or more of your body weight, you can help improve several risk factors that increase your risk for a heart attack. Weight loss can help you improve your blood pressure, blood glucose and cholesterol levels. Your improvements are usually even greater if you lose more weight.

Myth: Sleep has nothing to do with being overweight or being heart healthy.

Fact: While most believe sleep is something we can afford to do without, a good night’s sleep is vital to your health, and that includes keeping your weight in check and helping manage other risk factors for heart disease. Here’s why:

  • People who do not get enough sleep are more likely to have bigger appetites. Levels of the appetite-regulating hormone Leptin fall, which promotes an increase in your appetite. In fact, a sleep-deprived individual will feel hungrier than their non-sleep-deprived friends and is likely to overeat during the day or at night.
  • A good night’s sleep also aids in building muscle tissue and can decrease the risk of heart disease and high blood pressure by 10 percent. In fact, at the University of Chicago, researchers studied healthy, young adults who restricted themselves to just four hours of sleep a night for a week. Some of them ended up having the same high glucose and insulin levels of someone with diabetes.

Myth: People can lose weight by simply eating specific foods that are good for their heart.

Fact: There is no specific food that has the power to actually burn fat. You can lose weight in a healthy way by making healthier food choices and by eating fewer calories than you burn in a day. For example, filling half of your plate with fruits and vegetables, and the other half with whole grains and lean choices of meat/chicken/pork or fish, can help you stay satisfied and manage your weight at the same time.

As you can see, it’s not only your weight that matters, but what you do to be at the weight you are. Maintain the following healthy habits for a healthy weight AND a healthy heart:

  • Be physically active on a regular basis.
  • Eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day.
  • Choose lean servings when eating meat, chicken, pork and/or fish.
  • Eat plenty of whole grains.
  • Keep your portion sizes proportional to your energy needs.
  • Eat only when you’re hungry and not for other reasons.
  • Manage your stress.
  • Sleep seven or more hours a day.

For more information on how you can help keep your heart healthy, visit www.heartsbeatback.org and click on “Learn” in the red menu bar.