By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
If losing that double chin or fitting into your “young” jeans again is your motivation for losing weight, I’m behind you 100 percent. Not just because I want you to feel better about the way you look, but because I want you to feel better in general. Shedding excess pounds can have an enormously positive effect on your health. The benefits will far surpass any boost of self confidence you’ll get from a sexier image staring back at you in the mirror; you’ll feel better and your heart will be in better shape.
The Best Weight Loss Motivation: A Healthier Heart
You. Are. Worth. It.Every ounce of time and effort you’re pouring into your weight loss efforts are worth it. In fact, dropping a few pounds may be the single best thing you can do to keep your cardiovascular system working at its best.
- Lower blood pressure
- Reduced inflammation levels
- Better insulin sensitivity and less risk for type 2 diabetes
- Better vascular function
- More restful sleep
- Less risk of heart attack and stroke
- Lower risk for congestive heart failure
1. Lower Blood Pressure
Weight and blood pressure move like dance partners—where one goes, the other follows.
It doesn’t take much of a gain or loss to start moving your numbers, either. A 2014 study presented at the American Heart Association’s High Blood Pressure Research Scientific Sessions showed that small weight gains of just 5–11 pounds can raise systolic blood pressure. The increases were most pronounced in people who tend to store fat around their bellies.
Fortunately, this dynamic also works in reverse; losing modest amounts of weight will quickly bring blood pressure back down. How much? About 11 pounds can reduce systolic pressure by roughly 4.5 points, and diastolic pressure by a little more than 3.5 points.
2. Reduced Inflammation Levels
We think of fat as literal dead weight, but it’s actually living, metabolically active tissue.
Healthy amounts of fat produce hormones that help keep our metabolism on an even keel. However, as fat cells grow larger and multiply, they also begin producing inflammatory agents like interleukin-6 (one of the must-have tests I recommend for assessing cardiovascular risk). Belly fat is especially notorious for its inflammatory activity.
In short, losing weight benefits your heart and arteries by reducing your body’s potential for generating inflammation.
3. Better Insulin Sensitivity and Less Risk for Type 2 Diabetes
Folks, this is a big one, because nothing ages your cardiovascular system faster than chronic high blood sugar and diabetes—if that’s not a good reason to lose weight, I don’t know what is!
One of the most compelling studies to demonstrate just how beneficial losing weight can be looked at 1,079 men and women in a diabetes prevention program at George Washington University. All participants had BMI measurements over 25 and showed signs of intolerance following an oral glucose test.
The results were eye-catching. Through a combination of weight loss, diet, and physical activity, participants were able to reduce their risk for developing full-blown diabetes by 16 percent for every 2.2 pounds lost. Over the three-year study period, researchers estimated that a maintained weight loss of about 11 pounds could reduce risk by 55 percent. Participants who lost more weight reduced their risk even further.
4. Better Vascular Function
Losing weight also benefits the heart through improved arterial tone, which is the ability of the arterial walls to properly expand and contract.
As with blood pressure, extra weight begins affecting blood flow at relatively low levels. It is especially likely to affect women. A study published in Clinical Cardiology found that women with a body mass index (BMI) of 25—which is the low end of overweight—had lower blood flow than women with BMIs under 25 and, in fact, were on par with women who fell much higher on the BMI spectrum.
We haven’t pinpointed the exact way in which weight and vascular function interact, but you’ll realize the most benefit if your weight loss plan includes exercise. Physical activity helps condition the arteries to produce nitric oxide, the molecule required for expansion and contraction.
5. More Restful Sleep
Overweight is a major risk factor for sleep apnea, which in turn is a risk factor for high blood pressure, stroke, and diabetes. None of those is good for heart health—and I haven’t yet mentioned the tendency of people who don’t sleep well to rely on coffee and sugary, inflammation-producing foods for extra energy!
Losing weight can cut down on sleep interruptions, which has the downstream benefit of lowering cardiovascular risk. As a bonus, your stress level is also likely to improve. When you sleep soundly, your body is able to turn off its sympathetic nervous system, and that reduces the level of cortisol and other inflammatory stress hormones circulating through your system.
6. Less Risk of Heart Attack and Stroke
By reducing inflammation, blood pressure, and circulating insulin levels, you reduce many of the factors that contribute to atherosclerosis —the buildup of arterial plaque that can cause heart attacks and strokes.
In and of itself, this is a tremendous benefit of losing weight. But by avoiding a heart attack, specifically, you avoid issues that can further compromise (and complicate) your heart health following an event.
7. Lower Risk for Congestive Heart Failure
There have been some recent research findings that suggest overweight patients diagnosed with congestive heart failure (CHF) may have better clinical outcomes than patients of a normal weight. Don’t let this “obesity paradox” sway you into thinking those extra pounds aren’t hurting you. CHF is a serious, often life-ending disease—it’s infinitely better to not develop it in the first place!
CHF is the result of years of overwork by the heart, usually driven by high blood pressure, diabetes, or damage from a heart attack. Since losing weight lowers your odds for those conditions, it also decreases the likelihood of CHF.
Moreover, overweight and obesity are also independent risk factors for the disease. Because a larger body requires a higher volume of blood, the heart must increase its output. This extra stress has been shown to cause enlargement of the left ventricle and diastolic dysfunction, two frequent precursors to heart failure.
In fact, researchers have found that compared to women with normal body mass index, overweight women have a 50 percent greater risk of developing heart failure; that risk doubles for obese women. Overweight men had just a 20 percent increase in risk (statistically insignificant), but obese men saw risk increase by 90 percent.
Other Weight Loss Benefits
Don’t forget, too, that losing weight also decreases the likelihood that you’ll develop osteoarthritis, gallbladder disease, depression and mood disorders, and chronic pain.
So don’t give up—even as little as five or ten pounds will make a big difference!
- Alpert MA and Hashimi MW. Obesity and the heart. Am J Med Sci. 1993 Aug;306(2):117–23.
- American Heart Association. Small weight gain can raise blood pressure in healthy adults. 10 Sep 2014. Accessed January 17, 2017.
- Berg AH and Scherer PE. Adipose tissue, inflammation, and cardiovascular disease. Circ Res. 2005;96:939–949.
- Greenberg AS and Obin MS. Obesity and the role of adipose tissue in inflammation and metabolism. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006 Feb;83(2):461S–465S.
- Hamman RF et al. Effect of weight loss with lifestyle intervention on risk of diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2006 Sep;29(9):2102–7.
- Kenchaiah S. et al. Obesity and the risk of heart failure. N Engl J Med. 2002;347:305–13.
- Leung RS and Bradley TD. Sleep apnea and cardiovascular disease. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2001 Dec 15;164(12):2147–65.
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Who is at risk for sleep apnea? Accessed January 31, 2017.
- Neter JE et al. Influence of weight reduction on blood pressure: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Hypertension. 2003 Nov;42(5):878–84.
- Somers VK et al. Sleep apnea and cardiovascular disease. Circulation. 2008 Sep 2;118(10):1080–111.
- Whelton SP et al. Effect of aerobic exercise on blood pressure: a meta-analysis of randomized, controlled trials. Ann Intern Med. 2002 Apr 2;136(7):493–503.
- Patel AR et al. Modestly overweight women have vascular endothelial dysfunction. Clin Cardiol. 2009 May;32(5):269–73.
© 2017 HeartMD Institute. All rights reserved.