How being a little overweight might help women with heart failure live longer

The study, led by Leslie Cho, MD, Director of Cleveland Clinic’s Women’s Cardiovascular Center, showed that women who are a little overweight may outlive normal-weight women with heart failure by as much as 16 percent.

There’s few, if any, instances where being overweight can improve your health. But a new study shows that having a little pudge may actually benefit women with heart failure.

The study involved nearly 4,000 people with heart failure, when the heart does not pump as well as it should.

Women with the greatest survival advantage had a body mass index (BMI) of between 25 and 29.9, the results showed.

BMI is a calculation of body fat based on height and weight. A BMI greater than 25 is overweight; over 30 is considered obese.


Morbid obesity, which means a BMI of 40 or higher, provided no benefit to either the women or the men in the study.

The study shows an association between being overweight and long-term survival for women. But does not prove that being overweight is the reason that a woman with heart failure lives longer.

Not for men

While the results may be good news for women who are carrying a little extra weight it’s not the same for men. Men in the study who were obese or overweight had a shorter life span than the men who were of normal weight, the researchers said.

So overweight and obese men with heart failure still should try to maintain a normal-range weight to improve their heart function, Dr. Cho says.


And, ladies, this doesn’t mean you should give up your healthy eating habits. Rather, the results make losing weight less of a health priority for women who are a little overweight, Dr. Cho says.

The researchers are not certain exactly why a little extra weight helps women with heart failure. They theorize it may be that women need more fatty acids than men for better heart function, or that fitness, muscle mass and the degree of obesity may play a role.

There remains much to learn about gender differences in heart disease, Dr. Cho says.

Major health problem

Heart failure is a major health problem in the United States, affecting about 5.7 million Americans. About 550,000 new cases of heart failure occur each year. It is the leading cause of hospitalization in people older than 65.


Heart failure affects about 2.5 million women in the United States. In general, women with heart failure live longer than men with heart failure.

Adults of both genders should still work to avoid developing heart failure by maintaining healthy habits such as a good diet and physical activity, Dr. Cho says.

“It’s important that adults maintain an appropriate weight to prevent heart disease and to improve their health outlook if they have been diagnosed with heart disease,” Dr. Cho says.


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