Monday Medical: Abdominal fat poses heart risk |

Monday Medical: Abdominal fat poses heart risk

Lisa A. Bankard/For the Steamboat Today

Are you battling the scale and fighting the numbers you see? Consider paying attention to other numbers that can give you more information about your health.

February is American Heart Month. This is an excellent time to learn more about heart disease risk. Heart disease still is the No. 1 killer of most Americans. Most of the risk factors for this disease are based on lifestyle habits, with weight being just one.

Body mass index is your body weight in pounds divided by height in inches squared, multiplied by 703. Although that calculation may sound intimidating, there are BMI charts and calculators that will do the math for you, such as the one at

BMI is a frequently used healthy weight indicator and is preferred by most health care providers. A BMI of 18.5 to 25 is ideal for men and women, while 25.1 to 30 is considered overweight. A BMI greater than 30 is obese and indicates a significant risk of several health issues, including heart disease and diabetes.

Another important measure is waist circumference. This is the number of inches around your waist as calculated by a tape measure at the smallest area above the belly button. It is not your pants size.

The target measurement, no matter what your height, is 40 inches or less for men and 35 inches or less for women. A waist circumference measurement above these increases your risk for developing heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some cancers.

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We have known for years that when talking about heart disease risk, having a "pear-shaped" body actually is healthier than having an "apple-shaped" body. Research continues to confirm that fat accumulated in the abdomen (stomach area) can be more dangerous to one's health than fat found on other parts of the body.

Why is this? Because belly fat functions differently than fat found on a person's thighs, buttocks and upper arms.

Abdominal fat, known as visceral fat, is out of reach, lying deep within the abdominal cavity between the organs. The abdominal fat cells are active in producing hormones and chemicals that cause inflammation; this inflammation has indications for disease.

Because this fat lies deep it can affect nearby organs, such as the liver. Increased fat in the liver is linked with insulin resistance.

Insulin resistance means that your body's muscles and liver cells don't respond well to normal levels of insulin, the hormone found in the pancreas that carries glucose into the body's cells. Glucose levels in the blood then rise, which increases the risk for developing diabetes.

Belly fat releases fatty acids that can cause an increase in fats in our blood, raising overall cholesterol, LDL ("bad" cholesterol) and triglycerides. These fats increase the likelihood of heart disease.

What can we do to control weight accumulating around our middle? Effective weight loss is a combination of good nutrition — lots of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins — watching portion sizes and moving our bodies more.

Some folks think that if they want to lose weight in the belly they need to do more sit-ups. Although exercises that strengthen your abdominal core area are very important for torso strength and stability, these exercises will not get rid of this deep visceral fat.

The only way to lose inches is through cardiovascular exercise such as walking, running, swimming or cycling. Many health care professionals recommend maintaining exercise at moderate intensity for 30 or more minutes at least four or five days a week.

Please consult with your health care provider before embarking on an exercise program. You also may want to consider enlisting the help and expertise of a personal trainer.

Losing a little around the middle could gain you a lot.

Lisa A. Bankard is director of Community Education and Wellness at Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at

Know your heart

During February, the cardiac rehab and wellness departments at Yampa Valley Medical Center are teaming up to provide a coronary risk profile. This includes a health risk questionnaire, cholesterol, glucose, blood pressure, body mass index and waist circumference measurements. Call the Wellness and Community Education Department at 871-2500 for more information or to schedule a 30-minute appointment.