Harvard Heart Letter

Heart Beat: Waist watching

Heart Beat

Waist watching

Adding a few pounds around the midsection during adulthood seems innocuous enough. It has its own catchy moniker — middle-age spread — and was once a sign of prosperity and success. Today it's a sign of trouble. Abdominal fat, also called visceral fat, contributes more to health problems such as heart disease and diabetes than fat around the hips and thighs.

A study in the July 2007 Diabetes Care showed that men and women whose waists spread over a nine-year period had corresponding increases in the metabolic syndrome. This constellation of risk factors — high blood pressure, resistance to insulin, and worrisome cholesterol levels — seriously increases the chances of developing heart disease and diabetes. A six-year study of nearly 73,000 women in China, published in the spring of 2007 in the Archives of Internal Medicine, shows that those with larger waists were more likely to die prematurely than those with smaller waists.

Measuring your waist offers useful information you can't get from stepping on the scale. Many people lose muscle and add abdominal fat as they go through midlife, and such changes may not affect weight. An expanding waistline, though, can warn of trouble brewing inside the body. National guidelines sound warnings when waist circumference is greater than 40 inches for a man or 35 inches for a woman.

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