Controlling your weight is very important if you have heart valve disease (HVD).
Being overweight increases your body’s need for oxygen, and makes HVD worse by making your valves and heart work harder. Reducing your weight can delay, and sometimes reduce, the need for surgery.
Replacement heart valves are less effective if you are overweight. Being severely overweight makes surgery more dangerous.
Being overweight also increases the risk of many other conditions like heart attacks, high blood pressure, some types of cancer, and type 2 diabetes.
Body mass index (BMI) is a calculation of your height and weight to help work out if your weight is healthy. You can calculate your BMI on the NHS website.
The BMI ranges and classifications are:
- Below 18.5 is underweight
- 18.5 to 24.9 is healthy weight
- 25 to 29.9 is overweight
- 30 to 39.9 is obese
- 40+ is severely obese
Steps to achieving a healthy weight
Changes to your diet
There are lots of physical and emotional reasons for being overweight. Weight gain happens when people consume more energy (calories) than they burn. This can be because they are eating large portions, having too many snacks or sugary drinks, or not doing enough exercise.
Healthy eating is about eating a variety of foods in the right amounts. The NHS Eatwell Guide shows 5 of the main food groups. You should include starchy foods high in fibre (such as, brown rice and brown bread), lots of fruit and vegetables, and moderate amounts of milk, dairy foods, lean meat, fish, eggs, beans and other non-dairy sources of protein. There are some foods and drinks that are high in sugar and/or fat that we should have less of.
The best way to get started is to make small, realistic changes and set goals you can measure so you know when you have achieved them. Here are some examples:
- Instead of eating until you are full, eat until you are nearly full.
- Cook with olive oil instead of cooking in butter, ghee, lard or palm oil.
- Eat brown bread or rice instead of white.
- Switch from regular drinks to sugar-free versions.
- For pudding or snacks, have fruit or nuts instead of chocolate of cake.
- Cut down your alcohol intake each day and try to have some alcohol-free days.
- Change from full-fat milk to semi-skimmed, or semi-skimmed to skimmed.
Any activity is good, even walking. It will not make your HVD worse. Try these simple ideas to gradually build up the amount of activity you do, and make exercise part of your daily routine:
- Use stairs instead of lifts.
- Walk up the escalators or stairs at the tube station or shops.
- Get off the bus a stop early and walk the last bit.
- Walk every day. If you have a smart phone or Fitbit, try to set a target and gradually increase your step count.
- Try to be active for at least 30 minutes on most days.
Track your progress by keeping a weight record. You might want to weigh yourself every week or every 2 weeks. It can also help to keep a food diary, or review your goals at regular intervals. For example, at the end of the month set new goals or continue with your current ones.
If you are struggling to lose weight, please speak with your GP or ask to be referred to a dietitian for more support and advice.
If you have any questions or concerns about valve disease, please contact your heart team or GP.
Useful sources of information
British Heart Foundation
A charity providing information and support for people with heart conditions, including caring for someone with a heart condition, cardiac tests, and rehabilitation.
British Heart Foundation website
British Dietetic Association
A charity promoting health and wellbeing, including information about how a dietitian can support you.
British Dietetic Association website
Weight management support groups
Lots of these are available, such as Slimming World or Weight Watchers. Information about the services in your area can be found on the NHS website
Ref number: 5219/VER1
Date published: July 2021 | Review date: July 2024
© 2021 Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust
A list of sources is available on request