Gaining even a little weight can increase your chances of developing heart failure.

A new study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that adding pounds can change the structure of your heart and its ability to pump blood. But losing weight can reverse this potentially deadly process.

People who gain even as little as 5% are more likely to have thickening of the left side of their heart, which is a well-established indicator of heart failure. Those who lose weight actually improve their hearts by decreasing the thickness of the heart muscle. Weight gain in the belly may produce hormones that can harm the heart and cause inflammation, according to the study.

At the start of the study, more than 1,200 men and women, average age of 44, who didn’t have heart disease or any other condition that put them at high risk for heart disease had MRI scans of their heart and several body fat measurements. These were done again seven years later.

“Patients need to realize that keeping fit is better than any medication a doctor can give them for their long-term health,” the study concluded.

To learn more about healthy choices and the impact they can have on your life, visit SelfCare for HealthCare.