User's Manual: Your Heart

Lose Weight to Prevent Heart Disease

"My cardiologist didn't recognize me when I returned."
John Hale's grandfather died at age 43 of a heart attack. Three of his mother's seven brothers and sisters also died from heart disease. In January 2004, after yet another uncle died from heart problems, it dawned on him that he could be next in line.

At 250 pounds on a 6'1" frame, John Hale, 35, of Elwood, Ill., admits that he'd been eating like he didn't have long on Earth. For breakfast he'd down five eggs, eight pieces of bacon, hash browns fried in oil, and three pieces of toast "with butter smeared all over."

Obesity weighs on the heart
All that grease is like napalm to the heart. High-fat diets and oversize portions add weight, which bombards the body with excess cholesterol. That cholesterol begins lining the arteries, causing a gradual narrowing, which damages the heart muscle, said Gerald DeVaughn, MD, a cardiologist and president of Cardiology Medical Associates in Philadelphia.

Obesity is a risk factor in cardiovascular disease, especially for young men, but where you carry fat on your body can also be a good predictor of heart health. Being "apple-shaped," with extra fat on the belly, can put you at a higher risk than someone with the fat distributed around the hips and thighs.

Extra fat cells can also lead to type 2 diabetes, itself a risk factor for heart disease.

Even if you don't reach your ideal weight, every little bit can help. According to the National Institutes of Health, losing just 10% of your total body weight can lower your risk of heart disease and other conditions associated with obesity.

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Last Updated: April 26, 2008

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