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How Much Weight Do You Need to Lose to Get Health Benefits?

Weight and health benefits

Losing weight isn’t always easy but if you’re overweight, losing those extra pounds can be beneficial to your health. That’s because fat cells are tiny chemical factories that produce inflammatory chemicals that affect other parts of your body. Therefore, being obese means being in a state of low-grade inflammation, and we know that many health problems, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer, are driven by inflammation. Losing extra weight can reduce the body’s inflammatory burden and lower the risk of some chronic health problems.

The question is how much weight do you have to lose to get health benefits and reduce your risk of chronic health problems. You don’t have to get down to your ideal body weight to improve your health and lower your risk. For some people, that’s not achievable. This is true for people with certain health conditions, who take certain medications that make it hard to lose weight, and those who have health or orthopedic problems that make it a challenge to exercise.

Fortunately, you don’t need to lose drastic amounts of weight to improve your health. According to George Blackburn, MD, Ph.D., an expert in obesity medicine, losing as little as 5% of body weight is enough to have a meaningful impact on your health. Here’s an example. If you’re overweight and 150 pounds, you can get benefits by losing only 7.5 pounds. That’s achievable for many people through better nutrition and more movement. Let’s look at how losing just 5% of body weight can benefit your health.

Modest Weight Loss Improves Cardiovascular Health

Cardiovascular disease is still the most common cause of early death in Western countries. Obesity is also a risk factor for heart attack and stroke. In one Italian study, subjects with high blood pressure who lost an average of 4.9% of their body weight over 3 months experienced improvements in markers for cardiovascular risk. During the study, their blood glucose and LDL-cholesterol levels dropped by 3.1% and 2.1% respectively. The participants also experienced a substantial drop in blood pressure,  23 mm Hg diastolic, and 9 mm Hg systolic. That’s enough to place you at a lower risk of developing a heart attack or stroke.

Why does weight loss lower the risk of cardiovascular disease? Weight loss enhances insulin sensitivity, improves blood pressure, and reduces the body’s inflammatory burden. The combination of these factors can have a profound effect on the risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Studies show that a poor diet, lack of physical activity, and obesity are the leading causes of cardiovascular disease. Of the available diets, many cardiologists recommend the Mediterranean diet and a similar diet called the DASH diet to cut the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Can Losing Modest Weight Reduce the Risk of Type 2 Diabetes?

Diabetes damages almost every organ in the human body, including the inner walls of blood. One way this damage occurs is through glycation, a process where sugars bind to and damage the proteins that line the walls of blood vessels. Once damaged by glycation, the vessel wall becomes stiffer, leading to a rise in blood pressure and a higher risk of atherosclerosis.

The good news? Losing a modest amount of weight may lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. A study discussed on WebMD.com showed people who lose 7% or more of their body weight, through a plan that includes a healthy diet and exercise, lowered their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 58%.

If you have prediabetes, where your blood sugars are higher than normal but not yet in the diabetic range, losing as little as 2 pounds may be of benefit to metabolic health. One study showed that you lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 12% with every 2 pounds of weight you lose. Shedding 20 pounds might be a challenge, but losing 2 pounds is quite doable for almost everyone. Small changes can make a difference!

Losing Modest Weight Can Lower Your Risk of Cancer Too

Being overweight or obese increases the risk of 13 types of cancer. One of the most common forms of cancer in women is breast cancer. Being overweight or obese boosts the odds of developing breast cancer after menopause. Why? Being overweight or obese increases the amount of estrogen available to stimulate breast tissue. Plus, obesity increases insulin and insulin stimulates the growth of breast cancer cells.

Here’s the good news. Even modest amounts of weight loss may lower the risk of breast cancer after menopause. One study found that women over the age of 50 who lost 10-20 pounds enjoyed a 16% reduced risk of breast cancer. Even those who shed only 4 to 10 pounds lowered their risk by 13%. So, even losing a small amount of weight makes a difference. So, you don’t have to reach your ideal body weight to get health benefits. Losing as little as 4 pounds modestly lowers the risk of breast cancer. That’s a small change that can pay off in the long run.

The Bottom Line

Losing weight can be a challenge but you don’t need to get down to your ideal body weight for weight loss to be of benefit to your health. Dropping as little as 5% of your body weight, if you’re overweight, can place you at lower risk for developing chronic health problems. If you lose weight, do it healthily. Skip the fad diets and focus on good nutrition and an array of whole, unprocessed foods. Move more and include strength training in your routine too.

 

References:

  • Mayo Clinic Proceedings: Innovations, Quality & Outcomes. Volume 3, Issue 3, September 2019, Pages 251-267.
  • World J Cardiol. 2012 Apr 26; 4(4): 90–102.Published online 2012 Apr 26. doi: 10.4330/wjc.v4.i4.90
  • com. “The least amount of weight loss needed for drastic health benefits”
  • com. “Weight and Diabetes: Lose Pounds to Lower Your Risk”
  • com. “In obese patients, 5 percent weight loss has significant health benefits”
  • Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2020; 11: 58. Published online 2020 Feb 20. doi: 10.3389/fendo.2020.00058.

 

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