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Overweight? Exercise may not be enough to lower your risk of heart problems

You may already know that being overweight or obese is bad for heart health. What you may not know is you can’t undo these bad effects with exercise alone. To lower your risk of heart attack and stroke, you have to lose excess weight.

At least, that’s the take-away message from a study published January 2021 in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.

Researchers found that overweight and obese adults were far more likely to have at least one major risk factor for heart attack or stroke than those of normal weight, regardless of activity level. 

Major risk factors for heart attack and stroke include:  

  1. Diabetes
  2. High cholesterol
  3. High blood pressure

In this study, active obese people were twice as likely to have high cholesterol than inactive people of normal weight. They were also 4 times more likely to have diabetes and 5 times more likely to have high blood pressure. 

In other words, exercise doesn’t undo the negative effects of carrying around extra body weight.  

But the news isn’t all bad. Any activity is still better than none at all.

People at any weight saw a lower risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol with exercise. “This tells us that everyone, irrespective of their body weight, should be physically active to safeguard their health,” said study author Alejandro Lucia, M.D. in a press release.

Weight loss just happens to be vital for heart health, too.

How’s your heart health?

Higher body fat levels increase your risk of heart problems.

To get an idea of your risk level, check your body mass index (BMI).

What’s BMI? It’s an easy way to figure out your weight category. It can tell you if you’re underweight, overweight, obese, or a healthy weight. 

BMI doesn’t measure body fat directly. However, a higher BMI typically equals higher body fat levels, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

You can figure out your BMI by dividing your weight in kilograms by the square of your height in meters. The CDC simplifies the process with a BMI calculator.  

Once you have your number, check which category you fall under:

  • BMI below 18.5 — Underweight
  • BMI between 18.5-24.9 — Normal or healthy weight
  • BMI between 25-29.9 — Overweight
  • BMI 30 and above — Obese

One downside to BMI is it can’t tell the difference between muscle and fat. Therefore, active people may have a higher BMI. However, this may be due to muscle and not body fat. 

Visit your healthcare provider to get the most accurate picture of your health status and risks. 

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