Watch your waistline for health

By Lois Glover and
Wendy Borody

Are we starting to get a bit thick around the middle? Are our bodies becoming more apple-shaped than pear-shaped?

As we get older, we need to become aware of the dangers of metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome, not a disease in itself, is a term used to describe the condition of a person whose body displays dangerous heart attack risk factors. These risk factors may include resistance to insulin, hypertension and a blood fat disorder known as dyslipidemia. At the end of the day, all these risk factors may be traced back to one key problem: obesity.

Some of us can get away with an unhealthy diet and minimal exercise when we are younger, but this lifestyle can catch up to a person later in life. During the menopause transition, we lose the protection of estrogen. Fat tends to collect around the middle of the body after menopause and this is dangerous. The loss of estrogen can cause us to gain weight, which in turn increases our risk of heart disease. Metabolism also slows down as we age.

Developing a strategy to combat metabolic syndrome can lead to lifelong benefits. Diet and exercise are very important in preventing and managing this condition. Making a conscious effort to consume minimal amounts of salt, fat and alcohol throughout our lives can help in preventing metabolic syndrome.

The challenge for healthcare professionals is that women must be viewed differently than men. Women have smaller blood vessels than men, which means less plaque is needed to cause a blockage. Men tend to get a clump of plaque and may require an angioplasty to remove the blockage. Women tend to get a little bit of plaque throughout the entire blood vessel, a condition known as coronary microvascular disease (MVD).
Women can respond differently, may have less dramatic symptoms and unfortunately may succumb to heart muscle injury. The testing needed to rule out MVD in women may require different analytic treatment than that for men.

In addition to diet and exercise, there are other things women might consider to help in achieving a healthy lifestyle.

Start by doing your own waist measurement. A woman’s waist size should be no more than 35 inches for cardiovascular health. You can also talk to your doctor about your lipid profile and what it means. If you are a smoker, quit. Essentially, women need to take a closer look at their health and start asking questions. What are the stressors in my life? Am I sleeping? What do I look like? What do I need to change?

Look for patterns of high stress, inactivity and eating on the run. Many medications can cause weight gain, which can be a potent precursor of metabolic syndrome. Talk to your doctor about the potential side effects of your medications.

Women tend to be the gatekeepers of health in their families. Many women are so concerned with taking care of their families that they neglect to take care of themselves. These women need to shift their focus from selfless care to include self-care. The good news is you can bring your family with you on this lifestyle change.

Mother’s Day is just around the corner. This year, how about marking it by taking a moment to reflect on your health? It may be time to take charge and change your lifestyle.

Lois Glover is a nurse and menopause practitioner and Wendy Borody is a dietitian in the Mature Women’s Centre. Contact Victoria General Hospital Foundation at 204-477-3513 or online at

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