Your cardiologist is one of the most likely practitioners to tell you you need to lose weight, and it should be clear why–being heavily overweight can cause difficulties in circulation, increase the risk of heart problems, and form one of the first barriers to the healthy and active lifestyle that most medical professionals recommend. Such a central organ as the heart is connected with nearly every other function in the body, so losing weight is often among the suggestions given from other practices as well.
Since it is extremely common and has such pronounced effects on our overall health, weight loss has become almost emblematic of an overall healthy individual. Several organizations exist dedicated almost solely to helping people lose weight and improve their cardiovascular health; in many countries, there is even government funding for promoting weight loss.
Losing Weight – The Basics
First of all, it would be remiss not to mention that the weight-loss industry has often been the cause for poor health, eating disorders, and even death. Countless people with healthy hearts who have not received medical advice to lose weight are desperately following fad-diets or restricting their caloric intake.
Statistics show that not only is this usually damaging to one’s overall health, it is unlikely to achieve the desired aesthetic results anyway. Some people are naturally larger and some smaller–and for many, the real work is not to shed pounds but to shed the societal expectations that low weight equals good health. However, for those who have received medical instructions to lose weight, there is often a considerable amount of confusion as to how to go about it. If you have ever dipped into the world of weight loss techniques, you have almost certainly found an overwhelming number of opinions and dogmas on the subject. Some things, however, tend to be universal.
According to the American Heart Association, there is a significant mental aspect to weight loss: one of the main pitfalls for many is not being able to muster the motivation and determination to engage in serious efforts to lose weight. People tend to lose interest or feel discouraged after only a short while attempting to shed some pounds, but don’t be so quick to throw in the towel; the John Hopkins University of Medicine estimates that it can take almost two months of effort before there will be any visible results.
Most weight loss programs will include two factors: diet and exercise. For exercise, many cardiologists strongly recommend something aerobic; sports are a common prescription, as they tend to require little equipment and tend to be enough of a social activity to help people overcome the insecurity and self-consciousness that can keep people out of a gym or exercise program. The Journal of the American College of Cardiology reports that routine and sustained physical activity is not only the best way to avoid heart ailments, but the only way. In fact, a study in 2018 found that there was little correlation between weight loss and avoiding heart failure–so while obesity does indeed put pressure on your heart, one should never neglect physical activity in favor of only dieting in the goal of becoming heart-healthy.
Dieting can be trickier, again because of the deluge of information so widely available. Some diets tell us to limit fats, others carbohydrates, others sugars. And often we look for scientific research to tell us what to eat, but the results can be equally confusing; indeed, scientists from the PURE study–a huge cardiological research project spanning fourteen countries–reported that it is not sweets that are the main problem, but rather carbohydrates. However, this large-scale study is also criticized as having methodological problems–namely that those consuming high levels of carbohydrates and having higher levels of heart disease were also more likely to be from countries where they were generally eating a “poverty diet,” high in sodium and low in healthy fats, which contributed to heart disease.
So how should we eat if our health and our hearts are our main concern? Unfortunately for those of us who want a quick fix, it’s just not that easy. The answer is probably found in old fashioned food, made of real ingredients. Vegetables, proteins, whole grains, and good fats such as avocados and nuts are usually on the “go-to” list, despite sometimes being high in calories. Is this glamorous? No. Will the weight fly off like one might see with a fad-diet? Also–no. But if our goal is a healthy heart, suggesting anything sexier or more instant is usually not only medically irresponsible, but also a sure-fire route to failure.