You'd have to be living under a rock to have not heard that carrying excess weight around your middle increases the risk for diabetes, metabolic syndrome and heart disease. But did you know that it also increases the risk for stroke?
Well it can, and it does.
A new study from the University of Heidelberg found that while BMI was not independently associated with an increased risk of stroke, belly fat was. Women with waists greater than 35" and men with waists greater than 40" had four times the risk of stroke compared to people with more "typical" waistlines. The researchers also calculated a common metric called "Waist-to-Hip Ratio" (found by dividing the circumference of the widest part of the hips by the circumference of the waist). Those with the highest Waist-to-Hip ratio had nearly eight times the risk of stroke when compared to those with the lowest ratios!
This is really interesting because we nutritionists and nutritionally minded docs have long used the "rule of thumb" that a waist measurement of greater than 35" for women or 40" for men is a very likely indicator of insulin resistance.
An interesting sideline on waist to hip ratio: It correlates strongly with general health (and with fertility). Women within the .07 range and men within the .9 range seem to be less susceptible to all sorts of major diseases from diabetes to heart disease to cancer. And if obesity is redefined using Waist-to-Hip measurement instead of the more common BMI (Body Mass Index), the proportion of people categorized as "at risk" for a heart attack triples!
Meanwhile, another recent study in the journal Circulation isolated five basic lifestyle factors that can significantly reduce your risk of stroke. Here are what the researchers call a "low-risk" lifestyle:
Not currently smoking (let's file that under "duh"!)
Maintaining a BMI of less than 25 (although in light of the above, a good Waist to Hip ratio is probably even more important!)
Moderate to vigorous activity for a half-hour every day!
A diet rich in vegetables, fruits, chicken, fish, fiber, nuts and legumes
Moderate alcohol intake (for women, up to one drink a day, for men, up to two)
These lifestyle factors reduced total stroke risk in men by 35% and ischemic stroke by 52%; for women, the effect was even more dramatic: 54% reduction in ischemic stroke and 47% reduction in total stroke.
Considering that these are the same five lifestyle habits that seem to reduce coronary heart disease by 80% and diabetes by 90%, it's hard to see any reason not to follow this basic, easy program!