This Doctor’s Tips for a Healthy Heart

By Maria Fleet

Having trouble getting motivated to begin your journey toward better health? It may help to know that you will be making a difference almost as soon as you start.

Small amounts of weight loss can result in measurable improvements in overall health, including reducing your risk of developing heart disease.

“You don’t have to lose 100 pounds to make a good change,” Dr. Deborah Horn, an obesity specialist in Texas, points out. “We see some diseases like blood pressure and diabetes respond with a very small amount of weight loss, like 5% of total body weight, which isn’t a large amount.” 

High blood pressure and diabetes are two important risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease, along with high cholesterol. Keeping track of these measurements can reveal when you’re making progress in your health journey by lowering your risk of a cardiovascular event – that is, of a heart attack or a stroke.

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, so taking action to lower the risk for developing it is essential. And people who have already been diagnosed with heart disease can decrease their risk of future problems if they lose even a few pounds. For people reading this and sighing, “Yes, but how?” Science provides some hope. Effective treatments for obesity are available and are proving successful not only for losing excess weight, but for keeping it off long-term – which staves off serious cardiovascular outcomes.

Sarah Oxner understands how hopeless people battling extra weight can feel. Oxner is an optician in Nova Scotia, and a busy mother who has struggled with excess weight all her life. “I’ve been overweight right since I was a baby. So I’ve never known what it is to be a regular kind of weight,” she says. The message from doctors was always that she needed to lose weight, but strict menu plans suggested by dietitians didn’t work. And Oxner had her share of encounters with doctors skeptical that she was actually following a diet plan at all.

“They said flat out to my face that I was lying to them… They didn’t believe what I would say – and that my weight was my fault, basically,” she recalls. That is, until she discovered a specialist in medical weight management. Her first appointment was a consultation over the phone during the pandemic – one which she describes as “the best phone call I ever had with a doctor.” Finding out obesity is a chronic disease that needs to be managed like any other disease was an eye-opener for Oxner, and a new way of looking at her health overall. “I just finally found the right doctor who is able to unlock the mystery of my weight and get proper treatment for it,” she says. Now she focuses less on the number on the scale, and more on other measurements like blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar that are more indicative of her overall health.

The journey toward better health starts by working with a primary care physician or a weight management specialist to understand those key numbers (blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol) and how to bring them into a heart-healthy range.

Dr. Horn is just such a specialist. She works with her patients to help them understand what is happening in their bodies that can sometimes impede their success in reaching a healthier weight. “Patients always say, I’ve lost the same 50 pounds over and over again. It’s because as you start to lose those 50 pounds, we have hormones inside of our body that sort of flip a switch to try to push our weight back up,” Dr. Horn explains.

Along with nutritional guidance and other lifestyle recommendations, Dr. Horn can offer her patients other therapies like bariatric surgery and/or medications that adjust the hormonal signals, making the lifestyle program easier to follow. Throughout a long-term treatment plan, she takes those all-important measurements like blood pressure and cholesterol, to show her patients how they are visibly reducing their risk of negative cardiovascular outcomes.

The main thing is just getting started – working with your doctor to learn what your health measurements are and taking some steps to send them in the right direction. Do some research to find a doctor near you who specializes in weight management. Obesity medicine is a relatively new field, so not all family physicians are acquainted with the latest therapies. Don’t let that be an impediment, though. Dr. Horn advises, “If they don’t feel like they know as much as you need to know, no stopping there. Your job is to take care of your health care and continue to search for the right person for you.” Your family doctor could turn out to be a great resource for finding a specialist to help you manage your weight.

Dr. Horn recommends checking to make sure the obesity specialist you choose is certified – in the US, the certification comes from the American Board of Obesity Medicine. Keep your primary care physician in the loop, though, because “they are your health care home,” as Dr. Horn puts it.

The good news is that even a small amount of weight loss pays big benefits, particularly if it can be sustained long-term. Because obesity and cardiovascular health are closely linked, finding a healthcare professional to help you on your weight management journey is the pathway to a healthier heart.

The first step is talking to your family doctor about how they can help you reach a healthier weight and reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. To find a physician near you who specializes in weight management, click here.


Click here for a helpful guide to having a conversation with your doctor.

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This article was sponsored by Novo Nordisk. All content is created independently by My Weight – What To Know with no influence from Novo Nordisk.

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