Losing weight can help lower the risk of heart disease, and also help you feel better overall. But how?
According to experts, it’s best to map out a plan. Here are some tips to get you started:
- Make changes slowly. Trying to change your lifestyle overnight or lose weight too quickly can often backfire. Think long term and start slowly.
- Prepare for challenges. Learn the triggers that tend to cause you to eat poorly or not get enough exercise. For example, if you’re stressed, plan ahead so you don’t fall back on high-calorie prepared foods.
- Get help from others. Share your weight loss goals with the people you live with or see often. Enlist their support in helping you keep up with healthy habits.
- Work with your health care team. Frequent, face-to-face visits with your primary care provider or specialists such as weight loss counselors, dietitians and physical therapists are very helpful. If you aim to lose a great deal of weight, medical guidelines recommend visiting a health care professional once a month for the first three months, then every three months for the first year. Many insurance plans and Medicare cover these appointments.
“Again, even a little bit of weight loss goes a long way when it comes to improving heart health and lowering the risk for cardiovascular disease.”—Yasmine Subhi Ali, MD, FACC
Eat Better, Move More
The best way to shed pounds is to eat better and move more. For most people, eating more calories than you burn through exercise and everyday activities is what leads to extra weight. The content of those calories also matters. Research shows, for instance, that eating foods that are high in saturated fats can change body metabolism (the way your body gets energy from food) in such a way that you are more likely to hold on to extra weight.
Here are some ways to get your calories back in balance:
- Find a healthy eating plan that you can stick with. Don’t succumb to fad diets or those that are overly restrictive. It’s not realistic to make too many changes at once. Cut out saturated fats as much as possible, but don’t be afraid of healthy fats such as those found in nuts, avocados and plant-based oils, which have been shown to reduce heart disease risk. Some examples of saturated fats include red meat, high-fat dairy and processed foods that have added unhealthy fats.
- Limit alcohol. Alcoholic beverages tend to be high in sugar and empty calories. Reducing your intake can help shrink your belly.
- Read labels. Be savvy when it comes to choosing prepared and packaged foods such as yogurt, pasta sauces and dressing, which can be loaded with sugar, salt (sodium), fat and calories.
- Get more exercise. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days. What does that mean? Examples include brisk walking, water aerobics, playing doubles tennis, dancing, bike riding and gardening. Even shorter bursts of physical activity can help reduce belly fat. Find tips on becoming more physically active.
Other Healthy Habits
Many factors can influence your weight and overall health. These steps can also help you lose weight and reduce your risk of heart disease:
- Get a good night’s sleep. Aim to get 7 to 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. Studies show strong links between lack of sleep and weight gain.
- Quit smoking. Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease. Quitting will improve your ability to exercise and also cut your chance of developing heart disease.
- Find your stress busters. Reducing stress in your life will support healthy habits and improve your heart health.
- Actively manage your health. Work with your doctor to address other health conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.
“Making lifestyle changes isn’t always easy. Make a plan and surround yourself by people who can support you in your journey to not only be heart healthy, but healthier overall.” —Martha Gulati, MD, FACC
What About Medications and Surgery?
For some people, medications or surgical treatments may be needed to achieve weight loss goals if diet and exercise have been tried without success. Weight-loss medications are usually recommended for people with a BMI greater than 30 AND who have at least one other obesity-related risk factor for heart disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes .
However, there is no magic pill when it comes to weight loss. If you are given a prescription for weight-loss medicine, you should be followed closely by a health care professional.
Also, be sure to talk with your health care professional before taking any over-the-counter supplements that promote weight loss. This is especially important for patients with heart disease. In some cases, OTC supplements can be dangerous.
Bariatric surgery—surgical procedures that affect how the body processes food—is another option. Surgery is typically seen as a last resort and recommended only for people who are very obese.
However, these medical options don’t work alone. It is still necessary to establish healthy eating and exercise habits to maintain a healthy weight.
Last reviewed: March 2019
Published: December 2017
Medical Reviewers: Asma Aouthmany, MD; Eldad Einav, MD, FACC; Yasmine Subhi Ali, MD, FACC