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Pursuing weight loss for heart health

Last Modified: 3/13/2020

heart health

This post was written by Jessica Barkdull, NP, Parkview Heart Institute.

The heart is a complex organ.  Similar to a house, the heart has a structure, plumbing and an electrical system. It may be a surprise to some that when individuals are overweight or obese, the heart's structure, plumbing and electrical systems can all be impacted.

Heart structure

If you think of the heart as a house, the walls and roof represent the structure of the heart, the rooms of the house represent the four chambers of the heart and the doors of the house represent the four heart valves. In an overweight or obese individual, the heart often experiences an increase in workload due to the pressure required to supply a larger body with oxygenated blood. This elevated pressure causes the walls of the heart (structure) to become thickened. The increase in pressure can also cause the chambers (rooms) to enlarge which reduces the efficiency of the heart.

As the structure changes, and no longer pumps normally, the individual is at an increased risk of congestive heart failure. Furthermore, when the heart thickens and the chambers stretch, the electricity may no longer flow through the heart as it was naturally designed to do, and heart rhythm (electrical system) disturbances may occur.

Finally, risk factors that may lead to obesity, such as poor dietary habits and a lack of exercise, may also lead to corrosion (plaque build-up) in the heart arteries (plumbing) increasing one's risk for a heart attack.

Fortunately, many of the lifestyle changes that lead to weight loss can also improve heart health.

Body Mass Index (BMI)

First, it's important to know your BMI. A BMI above the "normal" range increases your risk for changes to the structure, plumbing and electrical system of the heart. Find your BMI on this BMI chart

  • BMI below 18.5 is underweight
  • BMI 18.5 - 24.9 is healthy
  • BMI 25.0 - 29.9 is overweight
  • BMI 30.0 - 39.9 is obese

If your BMI is above the healthy range, the time to work on making some changes is now!

Weight loss

As a general rule, 80% of weight loss is from dietary changes and 20% is from exercise. Have you ever heard the saying, "You can't outrun a donut?" Well, it's true. To burn off the 230 calories you eat from a glazed donut, you'd have to walk 42 minutes or run for 22 minutes.

A healthy dietary pattern that includes an abundance of vegetables, fruit, nuts and whole grains can be very helpful for those trying to lose weight. Likewise, a routine exercise program that includes aerobic exercise along with strength training is also important to burn calories and improve metabolism.

Weight loss tips
  • Find your "why" – Ask yourself: “Why am I working toward weight loss?” “What benefits will I receive from losing weight?” Knowing why you are working toward weight loss helps keep you focused on the goal.
  • Be accountable – Enlist the help of friends, family, a group weight loss program or an app, such as MyFitnessPal. Research shows that those who are accountable are twice as likely to lose weight.
  • Set goals – Make them realistic. Steady, small losses are more sustainable than quick, big losses. Once you have achieved and maintained your initial goal, re-evaluate and set a new goal, if appropriate.
  • Lifestyle – A healthy eating pattern and routine exercise should be lifestyle changes, not a short-term weight loss plan or "diet". Find healthy foods and activities that you enjoy. Share them with friends and family. You'll be amazed at the interest you spark in others when you share your enthusiasm for your new lifestyle!
  • Expect setbacks – Setbacks are bound to occur. Illness, life stressors, family emergencies or even car trouble can knock us off track. These things will happen! Recognize that these circumstances are temporary. Deal with them and then get back on track!


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