The heart is one of the most important organs in the human body, so when it is damaged, as it is with a heart attack, it can be devastating. More than one million Americans experience heart attacks annually, many of which do not recover or die. In fact, according to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, coronary heart disease (CHD) often results in heart attacks and is the leading cause of death in the United States.
What Is a Heart Attack?
A heart attack is medically known as a myocardial infarction, which is permanent damage or death of tissue on the heart muscle due to lack of blood supply. Typically, this is caused by a blockage or hardening of the coronary arteries, which are the main source of blood to the heart.
If arteries are narrow, as they are during coronary heart disease CHD), they begin to build up plaque and blood clots, which can result in a complete blockage of blood and oxygen to parts of the heart. When this occurs, heart muscle cells die and are permanently damaged, otherwise known as a heart attack.
Who Is At Risk?
Heart attack and CHD can be linked with things like family history and age (risk increases for men after 45 and for women after 55). However, there are many factors that can be controlled that are linked with heart attack. Individuals who smoke, have high blood pressure, high cholesterol high blood sugar, do not exercise, have an unhealthy diet, and are overweight or obese are all at risk for CHD and having a heart attack.
Heart Attack & Weight
Many of the controllable factors that are linked to heart attacks occur together, such as lack of exercise, poor diet, high blood sugar, high cholesterol, and being overweight or obese. When this occurs, it is termed “metabolic syndrome.” Individuals with metabolic syndrome have been found to be twice as likely to develop heart disease and five times as likely to develop diabetes than a person without metabolic syndrome.
Individuals who are overweight without metabolic syndrome are also at an increased risk of developing heart disease and having a heart attack. Because excess weight can typically be an indicator of excess fat in the blood, this is a red flag for potential plaque buildup and blockages within the arteries.
Helene Glassberg, MD, director of the Preventive Cardiology and Lipid Center at Temple University School of Medicine, notes that this can be real concern for all overweight patients. “The higher your level of blood fats, the greater your risk of developing a clot significant enough to block blood flow to your heart,” she says.
What’s more, studies have found that a person’s waistline can be connected to their level of risk of heart attack. In a study published in the European Heart Journal, researchers found that obesity in the mid-section is a key predictor of heart disease. Experts report that men with a 40-inch waist and women with a 35-inch waist have an increase risk of developing heart disease.
Weight Loss Benefits
While being overweight or obese can seriously increase risk of heart disease and heart attack, the good news is that weight can be controlled. Even a small amount of weight loss has been found to dramatically benefit overall health and decrease the risk of heart attack. In fact, just dropping 10-15 pounds can lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. This can be achieved through maintaining a heart healthy diet and regular physical activity, like walking, biking or jogging.
Even low intensity exercise like yoga has been found to help in weight loss. A study published in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine found that practicing yoga just once a week could prevent middle-aged weight spread in individuals at normal weight. According to the National Institutes of Health, ideal body mass index (BMI) should be targeted between 18.5 and 24.9 and may be used as an effective measure of weight management.