How body shape impacts your health

by: Jennifer Dooley, M.D.
Posted on September 24, 2016
body shape

You know that excess body weight can have negative effects on your health. But did you know that where you carry that body weight makes a difference?

Maybe you’ve heard others talking about whether they have an “apple” or “pear” shaped body. Or read an article on how to dress for your body shape. While it’s true that your body shape plays a role in finding flattering clothes that fit well, your body shape also plays a role in your health.

That’s because carrying excess weight and fat in the abdomen has been shown to have significant health risks — more than those of people who carry excess weight in other areas of the body.

Let’s take a look at the two most common types of body shape: pear and apple.

With a pear shaped body, excess weight is carried primarily in the hips, thighs and backside.

With an apple-shaped body, excess weight is carried around the belly area.

Why it matters

Research has shown that people with apple-shaped bodies — and fat around the abdomen — are at a higher risk of a number of medical conditions. One of the most prominent, metabolic syndrome, affects nearly 34 percent of all American adults.

Metabolic syndrome is a collection of risk factors that increases your risk for heart disease, diabetes, stroke and other health problems. It’s diagnosed when three of five risk factors are present — and one of those risk factors is a large waist circumference, which is common with an apple-shaped body.

The type of fat also varies by where it accumulates in the body. Excess weight in the lower body is likely subcutaneous fat, while weight in the abdominal area is mostly visceral. Visceral is more dangerous for your health, because it surrounds the internal organs, including the liver.

So what can you do?

Your body shape — and where you carry fat — is largely determined by your genes. But you shouldn’t feel doomed if you have an apple shape.

First things first, gauge your health. Using a tape measure, measure your stomach right below your belly button. If you’re a woman, you want your waist to measure less than 35 inches; for a man, you want a measurement less than 40 inches. Above those markers, you’re at an increased risk of health problems.

If your measurement is near or above those limits, you can still take charge of your health! You can’t spot reduce to reduce fat around the belly, but exercise will help improve your health overall and help you lose weight.

Aim for a balance of cardiovascular, heart-pounding exercise and strength training, which will help increase your muscle mass. One particular type of exercise — high-intensity interval training, commonly called HIIT — has been found to be particularly helpful in eliminating fat. In this type of exercise, you alternate short periods of intense exercise with less-intense recovery periods.

If HIIT isn’t your thing, though, even moderate exercise can help you reduce body fat. Exercise at least 30 minutes on most days of the week.

Your diet is also important. Fill your plate with fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins, and limit your intake of white breads and pastas, red meat, fried foods and sugary drinks.

Living a healthy lifestyle can help your health — no matter what body shape you are!

Your doctor can help you determine your health risks and lifestyle habits you can take to improve them. Need a doctor? Find one here. Struggling with weight loss? Erlanger’s medical weight management program may help.

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