Last update on July 26, 2019

The expat lifestyle is full of socializing at work and traveling to exciting places, but it’s also rife for chances to fall behind when it comes to heart health. What are the best ways to make sure you stick to your ideal weight?

As a busy expat, health and watching your waistline often becomes the last priority. But staying healthy shouldn’t take a huge chunk out of your schedule. Instead, making small but conscious choices on an everyday basis can have significant impacts on your well-being. What are the best strategies for maintaining an ideal weight while living the expat life?

Cigna Global

Cigna Global provides comprehensive health insurance to over 86 million customers in over 200 countries. They have a wide access to trusted hospitals, clinics and doctors and provide expats with help on tailoring a plan to suit your individual healthcare needs.

Maintaining an ideal weight as an expat

Statistics indicate that someone who is obese is significantly more likely to have heart problems. They’re also 30% more likely to suffer from a cancer of some kind. The good news is that sticking to your ideal weight doesn’t require drastic lifestyle changes. It’s actually about the small decisions you make every day — and how these can add up over time.

Even small, sustained calorie excess builds up; 100 extra calories a day over 10 days adds up to a significant 1,000 calories that aren’t burned off and stored as fat. The trick is not to think about the 1,000 calories, but rather to think about the 100. Make the small changes and the bigger ones can look after themselves. In this way, you can come to think of maintaining a healthy weight as a series of simple, daily decisions — rather than big life-altering changes which can be difficult to sustain long-term.

“The calorific load in food today is mind-blowing. It’s easy to consume two to three times the amount of calories you should normally consume in a single day,” says Bupa Global Medical Director Dr. Amit Sethi.

The link between weight and heart disease

It’s easy to see or feel the effects of weight gain on your body; maybe your trousers feel tight or you need to shift to another belt notch. However, the effect of excess weight on your heart, according to the World Health Organization can be quietly cumulative. You might not know about it until you have a serious problem.

Sustained high blood pressure (which can damage the lining of the coronary arteries) and raised cholesterol levels are both common signs of excess weight. Both can contribute to damage done to the cardiovascular system through plaque, which is a combination of cholesterol, calcium, and fat in the blood (triglycerides). Plaque can build up inside arteries, hardening and narrowing them, ultimately reducing blood flow to the heart and even causing a blockage. These blockages are what lead to a heart attack.

Is cholesterol the big enemy?

Cholesterol is actually produced naturally by your liver and vital for the formation of cell membranes, vitamin D, and certain hormones. Good cholesterol is called high-density lipoprotein (HDL). This component of cholesterol is actually protective to the heart and is found in, for example, root vegetables.

For some people, high cholesterol levels are genetic and treatable with prescription drugs. For others, they are a result of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and triglycerides (bad cholesterol). This is caused by eating too much food with a high level of calories or highly-saturated fat.

High cholesterol levels produce no outward symptoms. One way to keep your ideal weight if you have concerns is having your cholesterol checked and speaking with your family physician.

The measures that really matter

“The rate of obesity around the world is spiraling. But there’s also an increasing awareness of the importance of weight and body fat composition. Weight as a number doesn’t necessarily mean we need to lose weight. A Body Mass Index (BMI) is useful, but it’s increasingly questionable how much we should be guided by this,” says Dr. Sethi.

BMI doesn’t distinguish between fat and muscle, which weighs more than fat. As a result, BMI often incorrectly categorizes muscular people as overweight or obese. Conversely, people with normal BMIs could still carry plenty of fat around their waists, which may indicate an increased heart health risk.

Some research now suggests that the ratio of waist circumference to height may be a better gauge for cardiovascular risk. The healthiest measure is a waist circumference less than half your height.

Four ways to stick to your ideal weight

  • Eat plenty of unprocessed food, particularly fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and nuts. This is easier in some countries more than others.
  • Limit the amount of red meat in your diet. Eat more fish and chicken, both of which are lower in saturated fats.
  • Reduce the amount of salt in your diet. Read the nutritional information labels of food to be aware of the amount of salt in processed foods.
  • Engage in regular physical activity.

“Stopping problems 20 years before they manifest is much easier. If we eat good food, keep our triglyceride levels low, and exercise regularly to create muscle mass that can help burn off excess calories, we can maintain an ideal weight and heart now – and into the future,” Dr. Sethi adds.

It truly is those small, daily decisions that can add up over the years. These choices ensure that you continue to live a healthy expat lifestyle. Consult with your local doctor and register for health insurance for additional guidance in your healthy quest.