The study, which was published in the European Heart Journal, suggests that instead of focusing on your weight, you should be looking at your body shape to determine your risk for heart disease.
For the study, scientists followed more than 2,500 postmenopausal women for about two decades.
The results revealed that neither body fat percentage, nor fat mass of the participants could be associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD).
Instead, the researchers found that the women in the study with the highest percentages of waist fat and the lowest percentages of leg fat had a three times greater risk of developing CVD compared to the volunteers who had more leg fat but less fat around their waist. (Related: Are young women with heart problems being overlooked?)
The results showed that there is some truth to the belief that being pear-shaped, or carrying weight in your thighs and hips, can be healthier than being apple-shaped, or carrying weight in your belly area.
The participants with the most leg fat mass were at least 32 percent less likely to be diagnosed with CVD during the study period, unlike the women with the lowest leg fat mass.
There's no denying that maintaining a healthy weight is key to improving your overall well-being, but simply losing weight doesn't guarantee heart health.
To ensure that you're carrying weight in the healthiest place possible, you should also keep an eye on your mental health. Studies have shown that belly fat is connected to your hormones and that the accumulation of abdominal fat is linked to your stress levels.
One study even suggested that female participants with high levels of visceral fat had a higher cortisol (stress hormone) spike due to stress, even one hour after the stressful event.
Make lifestyle changes to manage your stress and reduce belly fat. Try relaxing activities like writing a journal, meditation, yoga and other mindfulness-based stress reduction practices.
Alternatively, you can try adaptogenic herbs for stress management. Re-balance your cortisol levels and relieve HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis dysfunction with herbs like ashwagandha, cordyceps, licorice root and schisandra. Adaptogenic herbs are available in powdered form that you can mix into coffee, smoothies or tea.
Lower your risk for heart disease and stroke by eating lots of fruits and vegetables. At least half of your plate should be fruits and veggies.
The other half of your plate should be whole grains such as:
Incorporate dairy products into your diet such as milk, cheese, plain yogurt and other milk products. A heart-healthy diet should also include beans, eggs and unsalted nuts along with lean meats, seafood and skinless poultry.
Limit your intake or avoid junk food. These foods contain added sugars, fats and sodium, and little to no nutrients, which can only make you gain more weight.
Regardless of body shape, heart disease is the main cause of death for American women while stroke is the third main cause of death for women in the country. Follow a heart-healthy diet and exercise regularly to lower your risk of heart disease and stroke.