The Simple Measurement You Can Use to Calculate Your Heart Disease Risk, According to Cardiologists

Given that heart disease is the number one cause of death in the U.S., it’s important to know what your risk is. Maybe you already know some of the factors that can put you at increased risk: having high cholesterol, high blood pressure, having diabetes and living a sedentary lifestyle are all risk factors.

There is another risk factor many aren’t aware of, which is having a high waist-to-hip measurement. What do your hips and waist have to do with your heart? Keep reading for all the facts, straight from cardiologists.

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The Connection Between Waist-to-Hip Ratio and Heart Disease

Your waist-to-hip ratio is a comparison of your waist measurement (or circumference) and your hip measurement (or circumference). High ratios show there is more fat around the middle, which has been shown to be a risk factor for heart disease.

“We know that visceral fat, which is the fat around the waist, correlates with an increase in cardiovascular risk, including strokes and heart attacks, as it relates to increased risk factors, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol,” says Dr. Laura Verde, MD, a lead cardiovascular specialist with Conviva Care Centers.

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Dr. Sam Setareh, MD, MS, FACC, a staff cardiologist at Beverly Hills Cardiovascular, says that having a high waist circumference and a high waist-to-hip ratio are both risk factors for heart disease. He points to a scientific statement from the American Heart Association related to the connection between obesity and cardiovascular disease, which emphasizes that waist circumference is a risk factor.

“Waist circumference is not only predictive of mortality, but also relates positively with cardiovascular risk due to visceral adipose tissue [or visceral fat] in the abdominal cavity,” Dr. Setareh explains. “The ratio of waist circumference to height as well as the waist-to-hip ratio have been identified as reliable predictors of cardiovascular disease and mortality.”

Dr. Setareh says that what’s especially noteworthy is that waist-hip ratio is a more accurate measurement than body mass index when it comes to predicting the risk of cardiovascular disease—especially for women. Scientific studies back this up. He highlights a 2018 study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association showing that women with high waist-to-hip ratios had a higher risk of heart attacks compared to men with similar body shapes.

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How to Find Out Your Waist-to-Hip Ratio

To find out what your own waist-to-hip measurement is, Dr. Verde says to use a tape measure to measure your waist circumference by wrapping the tape measure around your waist. Then, wrap the tape measure around your hips. “Divide the waist circumference by the hip circumference to get the ratio number,” she says. Dr. Verde says that an ideal waist-to-hip ratio for men is .9 or less and for women .85 or less.

If your waist-to-hip ratio is higher than what it ideally should be, there is a lot you can do to lower it; you are not tied to your current waist-to-hip ratio for life.

Dr. Verde recommends prioritizing a healthy diet and making a conscious effort to move your body every day. The American Heart Association recommends engaging in at least 150 minutes of heart-pumping physical activity each week. “Exercises that are low impact, but good cardio can include walking, bike riding, swimming and water aerobics. Strength training, such as Pilates and yoga, can also help lose belly fat,” Dr. Verde says.

In terms of diet, Dr. Verde recommends eating moderate portion sizes and a diet high in fruits and vegetables, choosing whole grains over refined grains, limiting unhealthy fats and sodium intake, and choosing low-fat protein sources.

If you have obesity and want to lower your waist-hip ratio, you can also meet with your primary healthcare provider to determine if a weight loss medication could be right for you.

What’s important to remember is that your waist-to-hip ratio is a number you can turn around if you’re not happy with what it currently is. You have the power to lower your risk of heart disease. If you need help, speak to your primary care provider. After all, they’re there to help you live a healthy—and long—life.

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