Doctors usually recommend losing weight for heart health as the first line of defense. However, does weight loss work to lower blood pressure? What about weight loss and blood pressure in relation to cholesterol?
Keep reading for all the facts on using weight loss to reduce blood pressure and lower cholesterol.
Weight Loss to Lower Blood Pressure
Hypertension (high blood pressure) is a major problem in the United States, affecting almost half the adult population. Essentially, 1 in 3 Americans is categorized as “obese,” which chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes also increasing in incidence. With obesity rates rising as well, it’s natural to ask if weight loss and lower blood pressure levels are linked.
Recent research has shown that doctors often recommend weight loss medication or surgery before lifestyle changes (like diet). Dietary interventions are often overlooked because traditional ideologies (i.e. “eat less and move more”) are not sustainable.
What a Higher BMI Means for Blood Pressure
A higher BMI can be misleading, even though a higher BMI is a risk factor for high blood pressure. In reality, there are two kinds of fat, visceral and subcutaneous. Subcutaneous fat appears below the skin and on the outside of the abdominal wall while visceral fat develops between organs.
Visceral fat is harder to get rid. In fact, fat cells are considered endocrine organs. This means they not only affect fat tissues but other tissues as well. Ultimately, excessive visceral fat can cause constriction of blood vessels (which causes blood pressure to rise)
The Effect Of Weight Loss On Blood Pressure
It is important to note that you don’t have to be in a higher weight class (at a higher BMI) to experience hypertension. In any case, maintaining a healthy weight can be crucial to keeping your blood pressure within a normal range.
Maintaining a normal blood pressure (120 systolic over 80 diastolic) is key to optimal organ health, and not just for the heart. A blood pressure within this range helps all organs to function at their best, since blood vessels help deliver much needed nutrients, oxygen, and other compounds to cells throughout the body.
Weight Loss to Lower Cholesterol
The body needs some cholesterol to function normally. For example, cholesterol is used by the body to build hormones and make vitamin D. However, too much cholesterol can cause heart problems.
Kinds of Cholesterol
A brief overview of the different kinds of blood cholesterol can help you determine where you are at after a quick trip to the doctor. There are three main types of cholesterol that come into play when you take a look at weight loss and heart health.
High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is often referred to as the “good” cholesterol. It helps to remove excess cholesterol from the body.
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) are considered “bad” cholesterols. They promote a buildup of plaque in the body. Plaque buildup constricts arteries, which ultimately leads to an increase in blood pressure (and increases the risk of heart disease and heart attacks).
Keep in mind that high cholesterol isn’t always due to diet or lack of exercise. Other factors that affect cholesterol include:
• Family history
• Other conditions (i.e. diabetes)
The Effect Of Weight Loss On Cholesterol
Research has shown that plant foods especially can have a surprising effect on weight loss. Plant-based diets contain lots of fruits and vegetables, many of which are lower in calories and higher in nutrients conducive to weight loss
Plant-centric diets can also introduce plant sterols to the body. These compounds help to balance cholesterol levels, and also mean more nutrient-rich foods—like fruits, veggies, and whole grains—are nourishing the body.
Basically, weight loss can help the body find a sense of balance and promote lower levels of cholesterol. This, in turn, helps reduce the risk of heart problems (and other health concerns) in the future.
5 Reasons to Lose Weight for Heart Health
There are definitely more than five reasons to lose weight for your health, but here are five reasons to motivate you to start today.
1. Encourages Adopting Healthier Behaviors
If weight loss is recommended to you by your healthcare professionals to lower blood pressure or cholesterol, look at it as an opportunity instead of a criticism of your current lifestyle.
What forms of self-care (i.e. eating well, participating in exercise that you like) would you like to introduce into your life?
2. Supports Trying Something New
The invitation to lose weight might be a sign that what you are currently doing isn’t working for you. The “right” plan is the one that works and creates sustainable change for you! Try something new to improve your heart health today.
3. Exposes You to Spices Other than Salt
One successful dietary intervention is called the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet. It promotes limiting salt (which in the Western diet is notorious for raising blood pressure) and trading it out for other seasonings.
When losing weight, experimenting with other seasoning blends can help broaden your culinary horizons while also benefiting your heart health.
4. Offers Positive Effects All Over the Body
Research has shown that even moderate weight loss (reducing weight by 5%) can improve your metabolism. In other words, even small weight loss can be significant for the health of not only your heart, but other tissues and organs.
Your liver and muscles can receive the benefits of weight loss, too!
5. Promotes a Positive Mindset Shift
Consider taking a weight-neutral approach to weight loss. In other words, work on your weight loss mindset first, understanding that your overall goal is health and that any weight loss is simply a positive byproduct.
Learn to cultivate a healthy approach to dieting, where you can make good food choices from a healthy frame of mind (as opposed to letting weight loss dictate every diet decision).
The Last Word on Weight Loss for Heart Health
While weight loss journeys look different for each person, everyone can benefit from maintaining a healthy weight. Weight loss can not only help lower your cholesterol and blood pressure, but it can also promote the health of other organs (including, but not limited to, your heart).
Start losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight today in order to keep your body functioning optimally.
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Gordon B. What is Cholesterol? Eat Right. Published November 2021. https://www.eatright.org/health/wellness/heart-and-cardiovascular-health/what-is-cholesterol.
Taking aim at belly fat. Harvard Health Publishing. Published April 2021. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/taking-aim-at-belly-fat.
Torgan C. Benefits of moderate weight loss in people with obesity. National Institutes of Health. Published 2016. https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/benefits-moderate-weight-loss-people-obesity.
Watson S. How A Registered Dietitian Can Help You With Cholesterol. A Little Nutrition. https://www.alittlenutrition.com/how-a-registered-dietitian-can-help-you-with-cholesterol/.