Find your waistline! If you can't because it is as big as or bigger than your hips, get rid of the fat around your middle. Losing as few as 10 pounds can make a difference. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute offers an excellent tool for measuring your body fat or body mass index (BMI) to make sure it is where it should be-under 25.
Some studies have shown that body shape may be an indicator of your risk for heart disease. Think apples and pears. Women shaped like apples are storing more fat around their middles. Pear-shaped women are bigger through their hips, thighs and bottoms. Recent studies indicate that people shaped like apples are more at risk for heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.
To a certain extent, you can blame your shape on genetics, but you can reduce your risk of heart disease by maintaining a healthy weight no matter what your shape. This is especially critical if your father had a heart attack before age 50 or your mother before 60.
It is a good idea to measure your waist from time to time to make sure it is less than half your height. The risk begins to increase at 31.5 inches with a significant jump at 37 inches. You can also calculate your waist to hip ratio. Divide your waist measurement by the measurement of the widest part of your lower body. If the ratio is less than .80 you're a pear. If it's more, you're an apple.
If you're a pear, you are not necessarily in the clear. Carrying more weight in the lower half of your body may offer some protection against heart disease but not if you're overweight. And, pears can become apples, too, especially after menopause. There is also some evidence that pear-shaped women are more at risk for other problems, such as ovarian cancer, breast cysts and endometriosis.
If your BMI or body shape is not what it should be, the advice is simple: eat less and exercise more. Doing it is the difficult part. Your doctor can help. You can also visit your local library or surf the Internet for free information, tools and support. For example, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute offers an interactive menu planner and popular commercial sites, such as SparkPeople.com, also offer free tools to track your progress in reaching your goals and connect with others for support.