Your natural waistline hits at the area between the top of your hip bone and the bottom of your rib cage. Your waistline may be bigger or smaller depending on your genetics, frame size, and lifestyle habits. Measuring the circumference of your waist may help clue you in to your health.

A larger waistline may mean you’re carrying excess abdominal fat, which may put you at higher risk of obesity-related health conditions.

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, you can be at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease if you are a man with a waistline of more than 40 inches (101.6 cm) or a woman with a waistline of more than 35 inches (88.9 cm).

Read on to learn more about your waistline, and the connection between your waistline and your health.

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To measure your waistline at home, all you need is a tape measure and some simple instructions.

  1. Begin by clearing your abdomen of any clothing that might skew measurements.
  2. Find the top of your hip bone and the bottom of your ribs. This is your waist, the space you’ll want to measure around.
  3. Exhale a normal breath out.
  4. Wrap your tape measure around your waist so it is parallel to the floor. Don’t pull too tight or let the tape fall too loosely.
  5. Record your measurement.

Understanding your measurements

Your doctor may be your best reference for understanding what a healthy waist size is for you. That’s because your individual body stats can affect your ideal measurements. For example, people who are particularly tall or short may have a different ideal waist size for health.

Your waistline is just one of the three key measures of your overall health. Two other important considerations are body mass index (BMI) and waist-to-hip ratio.

Your BMI is a rough measure of body fat. You can calculate your BMI by dividing your weight by the square of your height, or by using an online calculator.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) outlines the following BMI recommendations for adults:

Below 18.5 Underweight
18.5 – 24.9 Normal or healthy weight
25.0 – 29.9 Overweight
30.0 and above Obese

Your waist-to-hip ratio helps show how much weight you carry on your hips, thighs, and buttocks. To calculate, measure your waist circumference and your hip circumference. Then, divide your waist measurements by your hip measurements.

According to the World Health Organization, your risk of metabolic complications, such as type 2 diabetes, increases when a man has a waist-to-hip ratio result of more than 0.9 and a woman has a result of more than 0.85.

A 2011 review of studies on these measurements revealed that waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio appeared to have a more direct link to health conditions than BMI. This may be because BMI is only a general measure of fat. The number cannot tell you where the fat is distributed on the body.

Increased disease risk

Your risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and hypertension increases if you are man with a waistline over 40 inches (101.6 cm) or a woman with a waistline over 35 inches (88.9 cm).

Heart disease

One in four deaths in the United States is caused by heart disease. A 2010 study noted that both BMI and waistline size can indicate your risk of heart disease.

Other risk factors include:

  • poor diet
  • sedentary lifestyle
  • diabetes, obesity
  • heavy alcohol use

Waistline size is also linked to metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, all of which may lead to heart disease.

Diabetes

A 2015 study revealed that waist circumference is a better predictor of type 2 diabetes risk than BMI, particularly for women.

The incidence of type 2 diabetes increases with age. Other risk factors include:

  • a family history of the disease
  • being overweight
  • being on certain medications
  • smoking
  • having high blood pressure
  • history of gestational diabetes
  • stress
  • high cholesterol or triglycerides
  • being from certain ethnic groups (African-American, Hispanic, Native American, Asian-American, or Pacific Islander)

Stroke

One 2007 study showed that men with abdominal adiposity (large waist and waist-to-hip ratio) carried the highest risk of having a stroke in their lifetime. A high BMI increased stroke incidence in both men and women.

Other risk factors for stroke include things like:

Inflammation

Inflammation in the body may contribute to conditions like:

A 2017 study showed that people with larger waist circumferences had higher levels of chronic inflammation.

Other factors that contribute to inflammation include:

  • poor diet
  • insufficient sleep
  • high stress levels
  • gum disease
  • high cholesterol

Mortality

A 2015 review of studies showed that people with larger waistlines may have a shorter life expectancy. In fact, men measuring 43 inches (110 cm) or higher had a 50 percent greater risk of death than those measuring 37 inches (94 cm) around.

For women, the risk of death was some 80 percent higher with a waist measuring 37 inches (94 cm) compared to those measuring 27.5 inches (70 cm).

These results did not appear to be influenced by other factors, like age, body mass index, smoking and alcohol use, or exercise habits.

You may have a healthy waistline measure and weight, but if you’re carrying excessive fat around the middle, that can be considered a “red flag” and something worth chatting about with your doctor.

Why? Belly fat is made up of both subcutaneous fat (a layer of padding under the skin) and visceral fat. The latter is deeper in the abdomen and surrounds your internal organs. When visceral fat builds, it coats the heart, kidneys, digestive system, liver, and pancreas, impacting their ability to function properly.

People come in all different shapes and sizes. The same goes for waist shapes. People who have an “apple” shape, meaning those who tend to store fat around the middle, have higher health risks than people who have a “pear” shape, where fat tends to settle more around the hips.

One study on twins suggests that waistline is influenced by genetics. This means that, while you can lose weight and affect the amount of fat stored on and around your waist, you may not be able to change your body shape or proportions.

While you cannot spot treat fat on any specific area of your body, the fat stored around your waist and the distribution of your weight may be influenced by your diet and exercise habits.

Methods to try:

  • Move your body for at least 30 minutes, five days a week. Specifically, aim to get at least 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of more vigorous exercise per week. Try activities like walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, and aerobics.
  • Crank up the intensity of your workouts from time to time. High intensity interval training (HIIT) may be particularly effective because it helps boost metabolism.
  • Eat a healthy diet and skip processed foods and fast foods. Healthy choices include whole fruits and vegetables, lean protein, low-fat dairy, and whole grains. Look at labels and try to avoid saturated fats and added sugar.
  • Watch portion sizes. Even eating healthy foods in large quantities may mean you’re consuming enough calories to gain weight. And when you’re eating out, consider packing up half your portion to go.
  • Drink plenty of water and skip sodas and other sugary beverages that are full of empty calories.
  • Reduce your alcohol intake to the recommended two drinks a day for men under 65, and one drink for women 18 and older and men over 65. One drink is equal to 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits.

If you’re concerned about your waist circumference, consider making an appointment with your doctor to discuss your health risks, diet, and other weight loss options.

Losing just 5 to 10 percent of your body weight may help decrease your health risks. But don’t worry if the number on the scale doesn’t look significantly different after your efforts. It may just mean that you’ve replaced body fat with muscle mass. If you have any concerns about your waistline and health, talk to your doctor.