While the term “love handles” sounds all cute and innocuous, there is a deadly truth to these rolls of fat. Aside from being a tell-tale sign of what’s going on inside your body, these love handles are a clear indication of heart disease. Yes, you heard it right! According to cardiologist Rachel Harris, MD, and an assistant professor at the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, having any kind of fat deposits (adiposity) increases your chance of developing coronary artery disease (CAD). Both the types of belly fat- the jiggly subcutaneous kind and the deeper visceral one surrounding the organs- are equally deadly because an excess of these increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, says Harris. “Men with a waist circumference greater than 40 inches and women with a waist circumference in excess of 35 inches are especially high-risk.”

But if you are a normal-weight person can still be at high risk for heart disease if you have excess belly fat. A 14-year study that followed 12,785 American CAD patients found that normal-weight subjects with concentrated central obesity had a 50 percent higher risk of dying during the study than those who were flat-out obese.

USA's obese population has grown at an alarming rate
Men with a waist circumference greater than 40 inches and women with a waist circumference in excess of 35 inches are especially high-risk

The good news is that there is still time for you to take action in order to reduce these risks. The first thing she recommends measuring your “true” waist to see if it falls into that dangerous 40- (or 35-) inch range. To get the correct measurement, find your hipbones and go slightly above them to the narrowest part of the waist. Then bring the tape measure around without cinching it. If you fall into the love-handle danger zone, then maybe it’s time for you to seek out the help of your general physician and start making positive lifestyle changes. To do away with some of the excess belly fat, she recommends adding minimum 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise everyday, quitting smoking if you’re a smoker, and consuming a balanced diet.

The importance of making these lifestyle changes is even more in people who have a family history of coronary artery disease, as they are at a higher risk of falling victim to conditions like hypertension, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

On the diet front, Harris emphasizes on moderate portion sizes and eating all-natural foods. “I’m a big proponent of the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in nuts, garlic, legumes, fish and white lean meats,” she says. “It’s an effective weight-loss tool, as well as very useful for anyone who’s at risk for coronary artery disease.”

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