While the focus is often on weight and one’s body mass index (BMI), experts say that we should be paying attention to our waist size when it comes to heart attack risk.
In fact, cardiologists at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Centre want more people aware of what’s referred to as metabolic syndrome, or syndrome X, which includes a cluster of conditions that increase cardiovascular disease risk.
Syndrome X (which is also known as insulin-resistance syndrome) is said to affect approximately 30% of Australians and is known to increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.
So, how is Syndrome X diagnosed?
The syndrome can be diagnosed if 3 any of the following risk factors are met:
- Large waist circumference (equal to or greater than 80 cm for women and 94 cm for men – though this varies for certain ethnic groups);
- High blood pressure (equal to or greater than 130 systolic or 85 diastolic);
- Reduced levels of HDL ‘good’ cholesterol (lower than 1.0 mmol/L in men and 1.3 mmol/L in women);
- High levels of blood triglycerides (equal to or greater than 1.7 mmol/L);
- High fasting blood sugar (greater than 5.5 mmol/L).
“As a cardiologist, I’ve lost count of the number of patients I have seen and treated with cardiovascular issues like heart attack that have arisen as a direct result of metabolic syndrome – it is such a pervasive and growing issue in our society,” says Cardiologist and Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute’s Executive Director Professor Jason Kovacic.
“Most of us have heard about how carrying extra weight, particularly around the abdomen, can affect our health, but people are still largely unaware of metabolic syndrome and how damaging it can be for our hearts and blood vessels.
“With more than half of Australians already having at least one of the risk factors for metabolic syndrome, people need to be made aware of the steps they can take to avoid it.
“Unfortunately, once you have one of these risk factors, you’re more likely to develop the other risk factors. So, it can be a bit of a snowball effect,” says Professor Kovacic.
Positive lifestyle changes can help to both prevent and treat metabolic syndrome.
“We know this syndrome is largely caused by poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, smoking and the like,” says Professor Kovacic.
“This is good news because it means we also know how to reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome – this includes making healthy changes to the way we eat and the amount of physical activity we do.”
Tips to lessen your risk
Professor Kovacic advises Australians to focus on making simple lifestyle changes including:
- Maintaining a healthy diet by reducing portions, and eating more vegetables, healthy unsaturated fats from foods like olive oils, fish, and nuts, and fibre from whole grains and other plant foods.
- Upping your exercise to 30 minutes or more of moderate activity per day, five or more days per week.
- Quitting smoking.
- Reducing your alcohol intake to no more than seven standard drinks a week – though the lower the better.
“We know that changing our behaviour isn’t always easy, but whether it’s taking the kids for a bike ride on the weekend or finding ways to add more plant foods to your favourite recipes, every little bit helps reduce the risk of heart issues in the future,” says Professor Kovacic.
Undergoing regular Heart Health Checks to keep an eye on your cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels are also recommended.