Healthy Waist Sizes for Women

Woman with tape measure around waist
A woman is measuring her waist. (Image: David De Lossy/Photodisc/Getty Images)

A slim and trim waist is more than just an attractive physical characteristic in a woman. It is a very important indicator of her current health and future chances of developing heart disease, diabetes and weight-related cancers. Waist circumference is recognized by the National Institutes of Health and the American Heart Association as a marker of disease. Hence, they have established guidelines for determining a healthy waistline.

Measuring Waist Size

As every woman has different curves, it's important to have a standard method for accurately measuring waist circumference. According to Harvard Medical School, the official landmark for placing the tape measure is slightly above the hip bone at the level of your belly button. It's best to have someone else measure, but women can do this themselves if need be. Breathe normally and make the measurement on the exhale without depressing or cinching in the skin.

Assessing Risk

In women who are overweight with a body mass index of 25 or higher, a waist size greater than 35 inches is considered high risk and unhealthy. At any body mass, a waist circumference greater than 33 inches carries additional health risks but is not considered high risk. The exception, of course, is pregnant women.

Abdominal Fat and Health

Waist circumference is so important because it reveals how much visceral abdominal fat a woman is carrying around her organs. Visceral fat is different than subcutaneous fat, which is found on the thighs, hips, arms and back, because it feeds directly into the liver via the portal vein. In caveman days when famine was common, stores of visceral fat were crucial for survival, but now there is little need for excess stores of readily available energy. Also termed the omentum, this deep fat tissue causes metabolic disorders like poor blood sugar control, heart disease, diabetes, and increased risk of breast cancer and gallbladder disease.

Ways to Reduce Waist Size

Contrary to popular belief, doing situps will not reduce visceral fat. The best exercise for trimming the fat on the inside of your body is regular moderate intensity cardiovascular activity. Weight training has also been shown to reduce belly fat. Hence, a combination of 30 to 60 minutes per day of cardio and strength training is an effective strategy for maintaining or slimming your waistline.

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