byNik Abraham, MD, North Oaks Cardiology Clinic and North Oaks Multispecialty Group
Pot belly. Beer belly. Muffin top. Spare tire. Whatever you call that
extra fat around your waistline, it’s certain to be a threat to
your heart’s health.
Being overweight can affect your health in many ways, but the effect on
your heart is among the most serious. According to the
American Heart Association(AHA), people with high levels of belly fat face higher risks for heart
disease and other serious problems, like stroke and high blood pressure—even
diabetes. The problem is widespread among Americans. The AHA reports that
up to 70 percent of adults are either overweight or obese, meaning they
are 20 percent or more above an ideal weight.
The location of your fat can make a difference to your risk of heart disease.
People with excess fat in their belly areas—or the “apple”
shape—have a greater risk of developing and dying from heart disease
than people who carry their weight in their hips and thighs—the
One way to see if you are at risk of heart problems is to measure your
waist with a tape measure. For women, if your waist comes in at more than
35 inches, even if your weight is normal, you are at risk. For men, the
magic number is 40 inches. It boils down to the fact that a big waistline
puts you in jeopardy of experiencing many health problems.
Subcutaneous fat, or fat beneath the skin, is one of the two types of fat.
While your body needs a moderate amount of subcutaneous fat to be healthy,
too much of it can be bad. The good news is that subcutaneous fat is usually
easier to shed.
But appearances can be deceiving. Even skinny people can have unhealthy
“hidden” fat or visceral fat. It is located deep in the torso,
wrapping itself around your internal organs. This type of fat is more
dangerous than subcutaneous fat, and is harder to lose.
Carrying visceral fat is a key indicator of metabolic syndrome, a family
of health problems that can lead to fatal heart disease, including high
blood sugar, blood pressure and triglycerides, as well as low levels of
“good” HDL cholesterol.
Whatever your shape, keep a close eye on these measures:
Your goal should be to keep your blood pressure at less than 120/80. When
blood pressure is higher, your heart has to work harder. By losing weight,
eating less salt and exercising, you can lower your blood pressure.
LDL (Bad) Cholesterol
Try to keep your LDL cholesterol below 100 mg/dL (or whatever your doctor
recommends for you). Blood cholesterol levels rise if your body makes
too much cholesterol or if you eat too much saturated fat, trans fat and
HDL (Good) Cholesterol
Higher HDL levels can have a positive affect on your heart health. Pump
up your HDL by maintaining a healthy weight, eating well and exercising
Triglycerides are a type of fat that your body uses for energy. A high
triglyceride level can be caused by obesity or poorly controlled diabetes.
High triglycerides increase your risk for heart disease. A normal level
is 150 or lower.
It is true that genes may play a part in our shape and our weight—but
you don’t have to surrender to obesity. Shedding the fat can help
you avoid serious health problems.
Keep your belly issues in control by eating a nutritious diet and exercising
regularly. For more information about obesity’s impact on your body
or other cardiovascular conditions, see your primary health care provider
or make an appointment with the physicians of
North Oaks Cardiology Clinic in Hammond at
(985) 230-7350 or
North Oaks Multispecialty Group in Livingston at