One in every four deaths in the United States is caused by heart disease. That adds up to about 600,000 people per year, making heart disease the leading cause of death in the United States. Obesity increases your risk of developing heart disease, but losing weight can improve the health of your heart.
Obesity can lead to several health conditions that are known to contribute to heart disease, including:
- Atherosclerosis (thickening of the artery walls)
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
Visceral fat, or the fat that develops around the abdominal area, is especially associated with a high risk for these conditions. If not addressed, obesity can put you at a heightened risk for experiencing a heart attack or stroke.
About Coronary Heart Disease
One of the most common forms of heart disease is coronary heart disease. This condition develops when plaque builds up inside the artery walls of the heart, thus narrowing the passageway for blood flow.
The most common causes of coronary heart disease are:
- Uncontrolled cholesterol levels
- High blood pressure
- Inflammation of blood vessels
There are not always symptoms to indicate heart disease prior to a heart attack or stroke. If you are experiencing any chest pain, shortness of breath or faintness, contact your doctor.
Cholesterol Levels and Heart Disease
Plaque is a waxy substance that often develops as a result of poor cholesterol levels. Atherosclerosis is the process by which plaque builds up in the arteries, inhibiting the flow of blood by thickening artery walls.
There are two types of cholesterol present in the blood: LDL (low-density lipoprotein often referred to as “bad” cholesterol) and HDL (high-density lipoprotein or “good” cholesterol). At proper levels, cholesterol will promote cell growth, insulate nerves and generate hormone production. When LDL levels become too high, plaque can develop in the arteries. Those who are obese or overweight are at an increased risk for abnormal cholesterol levels.
Factors that increase your risk for high LDL cholesterol include:
- Diet rich in saturated and trans fats
- Lack of physical activity
Hypertension and Heart Disease
Hypertension (high blood pressure) is twice as common among obese populations as it as among those at a healthy weight. Your blood pressure measures the force with which your heart pumps blood through the body. There are two levels that gauge blood pressure:
- Systolic: Measures blood pressure while the heart is actively pumping blood
- Diastolic: Measures blood pressure while the heart is at rest.
For most adults, a healthy blood pressure range is anything less than 120 systolic and 80 diastolic, or 120/80 mmHg. Anything moderately higher than this may be called “prehypertension.” A blood pressure level of 140/ 90 mmHg is considered high. About one in three American adults have high blood pressure.
Factors that increase your risk for hypertension include:
- Diet high in sodium (salt)
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Low potassium levels
- Lack of physical activity
As you lose weight your risk for developing heart disease will typically decline. Maintaining a healthy diet, increasing physical activity and losing weight through weight loss surgery can reduce blood pressure, improve your cholesterol levels and offer several other improvements to your health.