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Managing your weight for a healthy heart

As we age, our weight changes. Maintaining a healthy weight can reduce your risk of developing health problems such as heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure. Stay at a healthy weight for your heart by following our recommendations.

In this article

What makes up body weight?

Body weight is the total of everything inside the body. The number you see on the scales is the total of:

  • bones
  • body organs (including your skin)
  • blood
  • muscles, ligaments and tendons
  • fat.

Most of these parts of your body weight you can’t change. The two parts of your body that may change throughout life and contribute to either weight loss or weight gain are muscle and fat. The amount of muscle and fat will also determine your body shape and how your clothes fit. Muscle weighs more than fat and depending on the type and amount of physical activity you do, it may change.

What causes weight changes?

The reason for your body size is not as simple as energy in, energy out. Many factors can contribute to your body weight including:

  • certain health conditions,
  • ageing,
  • medications,
  • genetics,
  • lifestyle
  • and even your ethnicity and income level.

If you notice any unplanned or unexplained weight changes (loss or gain) by how your clothes are fitting, it is important to discuss this with your doctor.

How body weight affects heart disease

Managing your weight and maintaining a healthy body size is beneficial to your overall health and heart health. Your individual level of risk for heart disease isn’t just about your weight, it largely depends on the distribution of fat and muscle around your body (also known as your body composition)1.

The best way to improve your health is to make small, realistic changes to your lifestyle. Even the smallest changes to your diet and the amount that you move during the day can create change. A small change could be as simple as parking a bit further away from work or swapping a snack to a piece of fruit. Sticking to these changes over time means that they are more likely to become a habit and your new ‘normal’.

Change can be hard, and challenges will come up along the way. Remember that one day or week where you let things go isn’t a reason to give up.

Making changes is easier if you have support from the people around you, so get your friends and whānau on board. You might even inspire them to take steps towards a healthier lifestyle too.

Healthy lifestyle tips

1. Choose mostly heart-healthy foods

  • Base your diet around mostly heart-healthy foods that are close to how they are found in nature including:
    • plenty of colourful vegetables and fruit
    • whole grains like oats, brown rice and whole grain bread
    • legumes like chickpeas, kidney beans, lentils and beans
    • some dairy products (low or reduced fat where you can)
    • some fish, seafood, chicken and red meat
    • some healthy fats like olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocado and oily fish.
  • Work on improving your relationship with food. Allow yourself to eat the foods you enjoy.
  • Eat with family/whānau and friends when you can.
  • Be mindful when you are eating so that you enjoy and savour the food you eat. Sit down and take time to look, smell and taste your food. When you eat mindfully you are less likely to over-eat.
  • Listen and respect your body’s natural hunger and fullness cues.
  • Use your hands as a simple guide to know how much food to serve up on your plate.
  • Drink plain water instead of sugary drinks like juice, sports drinks, soft drinks and cordials.

2. Build movement into your day

  • Aim to do at least 2.5 hours (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity physical activity each week. Moderate-intensity activity makes you breathe harder than normal but still able to talk.
  • Break up long periods of sitting and replace this with any type of movement whenever you can.
  • Find an activity you enjoy – there are lots of activities from walking to yoga that all count.
  • Gradually increase the amount of physical activity you do. Go for a little longer or a little further.
  • If you haven't been active for some time, start with small amounts of light activity and gradually increase the number of days and the length of time you're active.

If you have a heart condition or other medical condition, talk with your doctor before you start to do more physical activity. Ask for advice on the type of activity you could do, and how much you should do.

3. Drink less alcohol

  • If you drink alcohol - it's better to drink less.
  • The good news is you can reduce your drinking gradually over time.
  • Try the following:
    • Have alcohol-free weeks and weekends wherever you can.
    • Choose alcohol-free activities or make your usual activities alcohol-free.
    • Drink slowly.
    • For every drink of alcohol, have a drink of water or soda water.

'Low' and 'zero' alcohol products may help some people to drink less alcohol, but still contain calories (kilojoules). The healthiest non-alcoholic drink is water – and it’s usually free.  

4. Manage stress

  • Try to avoid using food or alcohol to manage stress. Everyone is different so find the tools that ease stress best for you. Find out more information about stress management at Small Steps.
  • Often taking time to be present in the moment can help manage stress. Focus on your breathing, talk to someone about it, take a break, get out into nature, do daily physical activity, read a book or spend time with your friends and whānau.
Senior woman drinking tea in her garden with her dog

5. Get enough sleep

  • Aim for around 7–9 hours of sleep each night.
  • Get yourself into a daily routine by sleeping and waking at regular times.
  • Have an hour of quiet time before bed (i.e. reading, listening to music or a hot shower).

Avoid quick fixes

If you want to lead a healthier lifestyle, it’s important to steer clear of diets that promote exclusion of entire food groups, quick fixes, or miracle cures. You may have some initial success with a quick fix diet, but they don’t work in the long term. If it sounds too good to be true, chances are it is.

Crash or fad diets come and go, often leaving you to regain even more weight than when you started.

What if I want to talk to someone about my weight?

If you're worried about your weight, we recommend having a chat to your GP, practice nurse or a registered dietitian or nutritionist.

For tailored advice and support to help you improve your eating habits and lifestyle, you may want to talk to a Dietitian or Registered Nutritionist.

Remember, your weight is only one piece of the puzzle and does not give an overall picture of your health status. There are many other factors which can help to build a picture of your health and level of risk such as your blood pressure, blood cholesterol and other blood tests.


What is my risk of heart disease?

Making lifestyle changes stick


1. Powell-Wiley TM et al. Obesity and Cardiovascular Disease: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2021;143(21):e984-e1010.