The Big Benefits of Losing Small Amounts of Weight

What if we told you that losing just three percent of your body weight could lower your risk of heart disease? Or that you could improve your sleep by shedding a mere four pounds? These are pretty big payoffs for relatively small losses—and both are 100 percent real.

We know that the road to a healthy weight, though worth it, can be long and challenging. That’s why we encourage you to feel inspired by the fact that you can reduce your chance of developing diseases associated with obesity and improve your overall health with each step you take (even the small ones).

Moderate weight loss, even if you have a significant amount to lose, can lower high cholesterol and reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and obstructive sleep apnea. And not to be overlooked, relishing your small successes will give you the motivation to stick with it and make healthy habits part of your overall lifestyle.

For example, for every pound you drop, you’ll experience a four-fold reduction of stress on your knees with every step, which means your workouts will become less painful—so you can lose even more.

It may also be helpful to know that lowering the number on the scale is only one part of your wellness journey. As you lose weight, it’s also important to stay strong and improve your aerobic fitness. “At Canyon Ranch, we prescribe nutrition and exercise plans to fit into people’s lives with attention to maintaining lean tissue (muscle) and increasing aerobic fitness,” says Param Dedhia, M.D., a physician at Canyon Ranch in Tucson. “We want to provide a plan for longevity and optimal wellness.”

“When we just look at a number, we’re missing an opportunity to see the whole picture and the benefits of even small changes,” Dr. Dedhia adds. “It’s the process of losing weight, increasing your metabolism, improving your nutrition, addressing stress and getting good sleep that adds to your health.”

Let’s dig a little deeper into the dramatic health gains you may experience from losing a little weight:

Diabetes. A major federally funded study showed that, if you are overweight, you can significantly slash your risk of type 2 diabetes by shedding five to seven percent of your total body weight. If you weigh 165 pounds, that’s just shy of nine pounds. Those who are obese can reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 70 percent with a five-percent weight loss.

Heart Health. You only need to lose three percent of your total body weight (six pounds, if you’re 200 pounds) to see meaningful reductions in triglycerides, blood glucose and other risk factors for heart disease. Studies also show that losing just five to 10 pounds can lower your blood pressure and your low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad” cholesterol).

Cancer. If every American shed about two pounds, we could prevent nearly 100,000 new cases of cancer by 2030. The reason: Fat tissue can produce hormones, such as insulin and estrogen, which may cause cancer cells to grow. Plus, overweight individuals often have increased insulin levels, which may contribute to the disease.

More: Understanding Cancer

Joint Pain. Your joints take a daily beating—and even more so if you’re overweight. When you walk, your knees absorb about three times your body weight. Even if you already have arthritis, slimming down a little can help take the pressure off. This is a particularly meaningful benefit of mild weight loss, since knee discomfort is one of the number-one reasons that exercise can feel difficult for people, particularly if they are overweight.

More: Joint Pain? How Weight May Play a Part

Sleep. Sleep trouble isn’t just a nuisance—it can actually make it harder to manage your weight. Luckily, losing less than five percent of your total body weight can help you get around 20 extra minutes of shut eye each night, according to researchers at the University of Pennsylvania.

More sleep means a better mood, and shedding pounds can also reduce snoring and resolve obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a condition in which the airway collapses during sleep, blocking the flow of air to the lungs and causing repeated pauses in breathing. (Fatty tissue accumulates around the neck and narrows the airways, making it more difficult to breathe.) In one study, people with sleep apnea who lost at least 5 percent of their weight (an average of 11 pounds), dramatically improved their symptoms.

More: How Sleep Affects Your Weight

Alzheimer’s. Obesity, high blood pressure, high levels of LDL cholesterol and diabetes have all been linked to an increased risk of dementia. So if you lose a little weight—and thereby reduce your risk of these conditions—you’ll get an added bonus: a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Ultimately, weight loss is about so much more than fitting into your jeans—it’s about becoming a more confident, healthier you. “We don’t get to a certain number and suddenly become healthy—we can only get healthier,” Dr. Dedhia says. “When people change their mental approach and work to become healthier, instead of to hit a magic number on a scale, their journey is often more successful.”

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