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How does my body type affect my risk for high cholesterol?

If you carry your extra pounds mostly around your waist rather than your hips and thighs, this puts you at increased risk. People who have what's known as an apple shape rather than a pear shape are at greater risk for high cholesterol, heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

When you carry most of your fat in the abdomen, you may also have a condition that increases your risk for heart disease called metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is closely linked with insulin resistance.

Insulin is a hormone that helps your body use glucose, which is the form of sugar your body uses for energy. Insulin resistance means that your body may not be able to use insulin as well as it needs to. You are more apt to have insulin resistance, and therefore metabolic syndrome, not only if you are overweight and carry your weight mostly at your waist but also if you are inactive. Some people are genetically predisposed to insulin resistance.

How can you tell if you have metabolic syndrome? According to the May 2001 guidelines from National Cholesterol Education Programs, you may have metabolic syndrome if you answer yes to three or more of these questions.

  • Does your waist measure more than 40 inches if you are man or 35 inches if you are a woman?
  • Are your triglycerides 150 mg/dL or higher?
  • Is your HDL - the good cholesterol - less than 40 mg/dL if you are a man or less than 50 mg/dl if you are a woman?
  • Is your blood pressure 130/85 mm Hg or higher?
  • Is your fasting glucose 110 mg/dL or higher?

You may not know the answer to all these questions. If you don't, but you are an apple shape, talk with your doctor about your risks for heart disease.

How to Reduce Your Risk

Take these actions to have a healthier heart.

  • If you don't know your blood cholesterol level, have it tested.
  • Talk with your doctor about strategies for losing weight.
  • Increase your activity. It will help burn excess calories, which can help you lose weight. It can also help your health by raising HDL cholesterol and reducing other risk factors for heart disease. Exercise also helps reduce insulin resistance.
  • Eat fewer calories to lose weight. Healthy eating habits also raise HDL cholesterol and reduce other heart disease risk factors.
  • Limit your total fat intake to no more than 25% to 35% of your total daily calories. A low-fat diet can help you lose weight and reduce blood cholesterol.