Lose Weight and Lower Heart Disease Risk

grandmother and granddaughter eating breakfast at the kitchen table

If you find yourself carrying a few extra pounds and having trouble losing them, you’re not alone, not by a long shot. Nearly 70% of U.S. women are overweight or obese.

One motivation to lose weight is for better heart health. Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women and being overweight or obese has a direct effect on the heart. 

Excess weight can make the body more resistant to insulin, a hormone that helps regulate blood sugar. Insulin resistance is what happens when your body doesn’t use insulin as it should, causing the pancreas to make more insulin. Over time, the pancreas can’t keep up and blood sugar levels increase, putting you at a higher risk for type 2 diabetes, particularly if you have a higher genetic risk for diabetes. 

People with diabetes have double the risk for heart disease or a stroke. 

Insulin resistance is also associated with metabolic syndrome, sometimes called insulin resistance syndrome. Having metabolic syndrome can raise your risk for heart disease.

Trying to lose weight may feel frustrating; however, it’s important to do for your heart and your overall health. The good news is that even a small loss — 5% to 10% — of your body weight can make a difference. 

Here is how too much weight can affect your heart:

High Blood Pressure

Being overweight or obese raises the risk for high blood pressure, a significant risk factor for heart disease and stroke. 

When you have high blood pressure, the heart works harder to deliver blood around the body. Having high blood pressure also can cause damage to your arteries by making them less flexible. This lowers blood flow and oxygen to the heart, which can lead to heart disease. It also increases the risk for heart attack, heart failure and stroke.

High Cholesterol

Carrying extra weight tends to raise LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, and lower HDL, or “good” cholesterol. Being overweight or obese also can raise triglycerides, a type of fat found in the blood that’s measured along with cholesterol. High levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides can contribute to fatty deposits in the blood vessels. If the cholesterol buildup gets too thick, it can trap blood clots in your arteries and lead to a heart attack or stroke.

Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea is what happens when you are sleeping and the body stops breathing multiple times. It happens because the upper airway is blocked, which decreases airflow. Although sleep apnea can affect anyone, it’s more prevalent among those who are overweight. About 25% of the general adult population is estimated to have sleep apnea, compared with 45% of those with obesity. One sign of sleep apnea is feeling tired during the day even if you were in bed a reasonable amount of time.

Sleep apnea is associated with/linked to cardiovascular disease, including heart failure, high blood pressure and stroke.


Obesity is a risk factor for developing cardiovascular complications in pregnant women with heart disease. If you plan to get pregnant, it’s a good idea to speak in advance with your health care professional about how to maintain a healthy weight. 


The risk for increased heart disease in women happens around the same time that menopause usually occurs. This happens for several reasons, including changing hormone levels. Fat distribution around the body can often change during menopause, with more fat gathering around the belly. Too much weight gain or too much abdominal fat can contribute even further to heart disease risk.