Pay attention to the extra centimeters Pay attention to the extra centimeters

Do you know your waist measurement? More than an esthetic issue, having a bigger waist can be a predictor of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and even sleep apnea.

Advisors: José Gregorio Thorrens, internist
Sebastián Vélez Peláez, echocardiographic cardiologist
Viviana Quintero, cardiologist

Rather than focusing on measurements, a protruding abdomen makes many men and women uncomfortable because of the esthetic issue rather than the health issue behind it. However, referring to it as a health issue, if you were told that size does matter, would you know your waist measurement? According to medical literature, the appropriate waist measurement for men should be 94 centimeters, and between 90 and 92 centimeters for women. Internist José Gregorio Thorrens warns that these measurements correspond to the Latin American population and can vary according to the genotype and phenotype of populations from other regions of the world.

But why is this measurement so important? The amount of fat contained in this part of the body correlates with the risk of heart disease, acute myocardial heart attacks, cerebrovascular disease, cardiac arrhythmias, tachycardia, and even sleep apnea.

Sebastián Vélez Peláez, echocardiographic cardiologist, explains that there are two types of abdominal fat: subcutaneous or visceral. The first is the one that can be felt under the skin. The second kind is inside the abdomen and is the most dangerous because of its relation to cardiovascular diseases. “The increase in visceral fat is related to metabolic syndromes and other types of alterations that predispose insulin resistance, changes in the lipid profile, and an increase in low-density cholesterol particles that enter artery walls and obstruct them. This type of fat also affects the functioning of the endothelium, which is the layer that covers the arteries and causes the development of arteriosclerosis and thrombosis. Visceral fat can even cause other diseases such as breast cancer and fatty liver,” the specialist says.

Location matters

The Spanish Heart Foundation (FEC for its acronym in Spanish) points out that in terms of cardiovascular risk, the waist measurement is more important than the Body Mass Index, BMI, as studies have shown that excess abdominal fat can double the chances of developing heart disease.

Specialists support this idea and consider complementary measurements. Thorrens, for example, states that the ratio of weight to height in the BMI could be disproportionate, not correlating with tall people with a lot of muscle mass. Meanwhile, adds Vélez, BMI does not distinguish between muscle and fat, and the location of fat “is an important aspect for calculating cardiovascular risk.”

In that sense, the waist measurement is a useful strategy for evaluating obesity, and especially the accumulation of visceral fat related to the development of cardiovascular diseases. “Both measurements are important, since their alterations have been correlated with adverse cardiovascular outcomes. With the waist measurement, we can be closer to a diagnosis of visceral obesity, however, it is important to consult with trained personnel for clarification and do the necessary studies to be able to propose a treatment plan,” adds cardiologist Viviana Quintero.

Is beer belly real?

According to Thorrens, this expression is more of a popular name for this body part than a medical reality. “Alcoholics do not get fat because they do not eat. They get their calories from alcohol, so they look thin. On the other hand, a social or chronic drinker tends to be sedentary, consumes liquor, eats excessively, does not burn calories, which are then concentrated in the abdomen.”

The calories obtained from alcohol are empty, so they do not provide the body with enough nourishment. It is important to point out that when there is cirrhosis in the liver, it is possible for water to accumulate in the abdomen, which is sometimes confused as a beer belly, when in reality it is an illness stemming from alcohol abuse.

Drinking liquor is a social habit that is not recommended because, in addition to illnesses, it involves other social and economic consequences. It should not be forgotten that, in general, alcohol consumption goes along with smoking, which causes more harm,” states Dr. Thorrens. Cardiologist Viviana Quintero concludes that good habits must be encouraged from childhood, including healthy eating and stimulating physical activity

90 cms is the waist measurement to be aware of.

How do I measure my waist?

  • Stand up on a flat surface with the skin of your abdomen showing.
  • Place a tape measure around the abdomen at the midpoint between the lower rib cage and the hip bone (iliac crest).
  • Make sure the tape measure is horizontal, parallel to the floor.
  • Measure at the end of the exhalation (air release), without compressing the skin.

Tips to reduce and prevent abdominal fat

  • Avoid being sedentary and increase your physical activity. Cardiologist Viviana Quintero recommends doing regular aerobic exercise for 150 minutes, 3-5 days per week. She also recommends combining it with strength and resistance exercises 2 times per week, as well as increasing the number of steps to more than 10,000 per day.
  • Maintain a diet low in simple carbohydrates (complex carbohydrates add fiber), avoid sweetened beverages, fried foods, trans and saturated fats.
  • Refrain from using tobacco.
  • Sleep between 7 and 8 hours per day.

Related: You can lose abdominal fat