Extra Pounds Subtract Years from Life

Those few extra pounds could affect more than just how your clothes fit. The extra weight could take years off your life.

Carol Bragdon, ARNP with the Cotton-O'Neil Heart Center, says two recent studies show clearly that "indeed, weight does matter." Not only that, she says they show not just the extremely obese, but also those who are overweight face a higher risk of early death.

A National Cancer Institute study released last month shows healthy, non-smokers had a 20- to 40-percent higher risk of death in the study's 10-year follow-up, if they were only overweight at age 50. If they were obese, they were two to three times as likely to die. The findings mirror earlier research done at Harvard University.

Bragdon says extra pounds create an extra burden for the body because "the heart simply works harder." She says being overweight means more miles of blood vessels for the heart to pump through. She says that can affect blood pressure and it can affect metabolism, how insulin and blood sugars react in the body.

Bragdon says the affects mean an increased risk for heart disease, especially for women. She says women are generally smaller in size, so a few pounds proportionately will put women in a higher-risk category more quickly. She says women also tend to have smaller coronary arteries and, therefore, blockages can occur more readily.

Keeping an eye on your waist measurement and a height/weight ratio known as the body mass index can help you know whether your risk is going up. For women, a healthy waist measurement is less than 35 inches; 40 inches for men. Also, a healthy BMI is considered between 19.5 and 25. A BMI over 30 is considered obese.

You can calculate your BMI by clicking the "Body Mass Index" in the red banners located at the top center of the home page.

Bragdon also suggests being familiar with another figure: your waist to hip ratio, with measurements done in inches. A healthy ratio for women is less than .85; for men, 90.

If any of the numbers fall outside the healthy range, Bragdon says, the prescription is clear, trim up and get rid of the extra pounds. It could add extra years to your life.

You'll find additional information on assessing how obesity may be impacting your health from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute's Obesity Education Initiative .

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