Are you an apple or a pear? These typical body shapes say something about your cardiovascular risk.
‘Apples’ are women who are naturally more rounded, carrying weight around their middle. ‘Pears’ have more weight on the hips and thighs, making their waists look smaller in relation. Now researchers and physicians are paying attention to these body types as indicators of potential heart risk—and pears may be less apt to develop cardiovascular disease.
The concern involves ‘visceral fat,’ the fat that develops in and around internal organs. “People who store fat around internal organs have the apple shape, and people who store fat peripherally have the pear shape. Apple-shaped bodies store fat near the waist and have a much greater risk for cardiometabolic disease, for example diabetes, dyslipidemia, hypertension, coronary artery disease and stroke,” says Dr. Divya Chauhan, a family physician at Creve Coeur Family Medicine and on staff at St. Luke’s Hospital. “The reason for this is that internal visceral fat is more metabolically active than subcutaneous fat, and this activity can have harmful effects such as induced insulin resistance, impaired vascular function and inflammation.”
Visceral fat isn’t just sitting there harmlessly making you plump. Instead, the fat cells manufacture inflammatory chemicals called cytokines that are carried to organs via the blood-stream, causing damage and metabolic changes that lead to disease.
The good news is that visceral fat—like peripheral fat on the hips, thighs and buttocks—can be reduced using basic weight-loss strategies. “There isn’t a specific, targeted therapeutic pharmaceutical intervention that target only visceral fat. Medications that are available for weight loss are essentially working on hunger control and appetite suppression,” says Dr. Mario Morales with the SSM Weight-Loss Institute. “But, what we do know is that when patients begin to lose weight, particularly the first 15 to 20 percent of excess weight, it’s mostly in the viscera.”
To help patients gauge their cardiovascular risk and determine how much weight to lose, experts suggest a waist-to-height ratio in which waist circumference is half or less than the patient’s height in inches. In other words, a woman who is 66 inches tall should aim for a waist circumference of no more than 33 inches. Recent studies indicate that the waist-to-height ratio may be an important tool for determining cardiovascular risk and should be used in conjunction with body-mass index, a measurement of overall weight to height. In fact, some experts think waist-to-height ratio is a better risk indicator than BMI, although no official recommendations have been made.
Exercise and diet are the keys to losing visceral fat, as well as peripheral fat; and Morales notes that even losing a few pounds can decrease risk of cardiovascular disease. So for your figure, your organs and your overall health, put down the donut and take a walk.