Pear-Shaped? Here's How That Actually Benefits Your Health
Weight gain, especially around the midsection, is something many of us deal with our whole lives—despite our best efforts to lose weight and eat healthier. It can be frustrating, especially since we know that belly fat is particularly damaging to our health. Now, a new study published in the European Heart Journal, showed that where fat is located on the body (we're looking at you, belly fat) is a better predictor of cardiovascular disease (CVD) than how much you actually weigh.
Yes, you read that correctly. Where you carry weight is more important than how much weight there actually is. The study, which followed over 2,500 postmenopausal women for almost 20 years, showed that neither body fat percentage nor fat mass could be linked to an increased risk for heart disease. What they did find, however, was that the women in the study who had the highest percentages of waist fat and the lowest percentages of leg fat had a three-times greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease than women who had more leg fat and less fat accumulation around their waist.
If this reminds you of the age-old "pear shape" versus "apple shape" debate, you're right on track. This study backs up the idea that a pear shape—when you carry weight in your thighs and hips—is healthier than an apple shape, which is characterized by weight accumulation in the belly area. In fact, the researchers found that the women who had the most leg fat mass were 32% less likely to be diagnosed with CVD during the study period compared to those with the lowest.
What can we learn from this? While one of the best steps toward protecting your long-term cardiovascular health is maintaining a healthy weight, this study shows that it's more complicated than that. Much like how we've learned that losing weight is more complicated than calories in and calories out, we're learning that preventing heart disease is about more than just maintaining a healthy weight.
So what can you do to make sure you're holding your weight in the healthiest place possible? We already know that belly fat is connected to our hormones. More specifically, research has directly connected1 accumulation of abdominal fat to how stressed we are; one study even found that women with high levels of visceral fat had a larger cortisol spike1 in response to stress as well as for a full hour after the stressful event.
Knowing this, a good first step to protecting yourself against belly fat is to take daily action to mitigate your stress levels. This could include meditation, yoga (try this 15-minute flow for stress and anxiety), or another mindfulness-based stress reduction practices, like journaling. According to Will Cole, D.C., IFMCP, a functional medicine expert and mbg Collective member, adaptogenic herbs are a great place to turn to reduce stress. "Some of my favorites for rebalancing cortisol and easing HPA-axis dysfunction are licorice root2, ashwagandha, schisandra3, and cordyceps. Find these in powdered form, and add to your teas, smoothies, or coffee," he explained.
Gretchen Lidicker is an mbg health contributor, content strategist, and the author of CBD Oil Everyday Secrets: A Lifestyle Guide to Hemp-Derived Health and Wellness and Magnesium Everyday Secrets: A Lifestyle Guide to Epsom Salts, Magnesium Oil, and Nature's Relaxation Mineral. She holds a B.S. in biology and earned her master’s degree in physiology with a concentration in complementary and alternative medicine from Georgetown University.