If you think a slim waistline is only about aesthetics, think again. Carrying extra weight on the waistline can be bad news for women. If you are apple-shaped (carrying extra weight around the waist) or pear-shaped (carrying extra weight on your hips) you could have an increased risk of suffering from heart disease—the number one cause of death among women.

Researchers have found that waistline predicts heart disease and diabetes more accurately than weight. Specifically, a waistline that is larger than 39 inches may indicate you are already on the road to type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Moreover, studies show that abdominal obesity is strongly associated with high cholesterol, high triglycerides, and increased risk of death from heart disease and diabetes even after controlling overall obesity. Women who had waist measurements of 38 inches were three times more likely to die from heart disease than women with waists measuring 28 inches, the study found.

Doctors and researchers calculate abdominal obesity using a measure call waist-to-hip-ratio (WHR). You can find out your WHR by measuring your waist and your hips. Divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement. A number greater than .85 means you have abdominal obesity and you are at risk.

But why is this fat so much more dangerous than being evenly overweight? The fat around your waist, also called visceral fat, surrounds the liver and other abdominal organs. This fat is very metabolically active, which means that it constantly releases fatty acids, inflammatory agents, and hormones that lead to higher levels of bad cholesterol (LDL), triglycerides, blood glucose, and blood pressure, according to researchers in the Harvard School of Public Health.

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Losing weight is always a good start. Losing 5 to 10 percent of your total body weight will help decrease the risks associated with abdominal fat. Weight loss can be achieved by:

  • Cutting Calories: Cut 500 to 1,000 calories from your daily intake through diet and exercise.
  • Taking it Slow: Lose weight slowly—one to two pounds a week.
  • Moving: Exercise three to five days a week. Moderate activity such as walking for 30-45 minutes will help. Increase activity intensity according to your fitness level.
  • Eating Wisely: Restrict simple carbs such as sugars and refined grains, drink adequate amounts of water, and limit the intake of alcohol and soft drinks, especially those with artificial sweeteners.
  • Sleeping: Sleep brings down your cortisol levels and helps you lose weight, especially abdominal weight.