Weight Management for a Healthy Heart
Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is one of the best things you can do for your heart. Weight gain is linked to increased blood cholesterol, blood pressure and risk for diabetes.
How do I know if I'm overweight?
Body Mass Index, or BMI, is one tool we can use to assess body weight. Here's how BMI is calculated:
Height (in meters, squared)
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) classifies BMI ranges as follows:
Underweight = Less than 18.5
Normal Weight = 18.6 to 24.9
Overweight = 25 to 29.9
Grade 1 Obesity = 30 to 34.9
Grade 2 Obesity = 35 to 39.9
Grade 3 Obesity = 40 or Above
This is a rough guide. Muscular men or women may have a BMI up to 27 or 28 without being overweight.
The goal is to achieve the weight that is healthiest for you. Not everyone needs to have a BMI in the normal range; it's possible to be fit and healthy at a heavier weight. However, overweight or obese individuals, especially if they have risk factors for heart disease – such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure or high blood glucose – will benefit from even a small amount of weight loss. Preventing further weight gain is an important place to start.
What are the keys to a healthy weight?
The best way to achieve a healthy weight is not by following a short-term diet or program. Instead, focus on permanent, positive changes that promote lifelong health and well-being.
Here are three keys to a healthy weight:
1. Eat well
- Don't skip meals – this may lead to overeating later. Weight loss efforts are most successful when meals and snacks are small and spread out during the day.
- Eat balanced meals. Choosing a wide variety of foods is important for good health, but control portion sizes and avoid second servings. Try serving the foods on your plate with these tips in mind:
- Fill one quarter of your plate with lean protein – this portion size fits within the palm of your hand. Lean protein sources include fish (especially salmon), poultry, egg whites and tofu.
- Then fill at least half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables like tomatoes, salads and other greens, broccoli, carrots, mushrooms and green beans.
- If desired, add a small portion of fruit or a cup of low-fat or nonfat milk or yogurt. Or, enjoy these as a between-meals snack instead.
- Limit foods that are high in saturated fat, since fat is a concentrated source of calories.
- Choose lean meats. Trim visible fat from meats and skin from poultry before eating.
- Use lower-fat cooking methods, such as baking, broiling, roasting, stewing and steaming. Avoid frying foods.
- Watch out for added fats from condiments, such as cheese, butter, margarine, mayonnaise and salad dressing.
- Eat less added sugars in the form of table sugar, honey, sweets, pastries and desserts.
- Avoid high-calories beverages like sodas, fruit juices and alcohol.
2. Be active – exercise.
Try making exercise a daily habit. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate activity, such as brisk walking, on most days of the week. If your goal is to lose weight, however, you'll benefit from doing more, as much as 60 to 90 minutes of activity per day.
Don't set the bar too high when you're just getting started. Start slowly, and gradually increase your daily activity level. Some tips for increasing activity levels:
- Limit TV, computer and video game use.
- Schedule family exercise time.
- Get an exercise video or equipment to use at home.
- Walk the dog.
- Do errands by foot or bike.
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
- Park farther away or get off the bus a few stops early and walk the rest of the way.
- Join a walking group, aerobics class, sports team, local pool, gym or community center.
To stay motivated:
- Choose a variety of activities to keep your workouts interesting.
- Set realistic goals, at a reasonable pace.
- Plan exercise into your weekly schedule.
- Find an exercise buddy – you can rely on each other for support.
- Keep an exercise log. Writing down what we do helps keep us focused.
- Set a non-food reward for progress in meeting your goal.
3. Be aware and plan.
- At home, eat only while sitting down at the table and stay out of the kitchen unless you are preparing food.
- Keep tempting foods out of sight and make healthy snacks available.
- Use smaller plates, bowls and glasses.
- Make it inconvenient to eat more by chewing gum or brushing your teeth after meals.
- Take small bites.
- Chew your food well.
- Put your utensil down between bites and savor the taste of the food.
Monitor your progress:
- Check your body weight at least once a week – daily is okay – and keep a logbook.
- Keep a daily food journal. It will make you think more carefully about what you're eating and allow you to monitor calories. There are many ways to track calories, including applications for your handheld device, free or paid online programs, or the good old fashioned paper and pencil method.
UCSF Health medical specialists have reviewed this information. It is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or other health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your provider.