It’s that time of year when spring is beginning to show up. While we’re excited to see trees starting to show buds, it also means that the weight-loss ads encouraging everyone to be swimsuit-ready for summer are right around the corner.
But do you need to drop lots of weight to be healthy? Two recent studies add to the research supporting the belief that dropping 5 to 10 percent of your body weight can go a long way in improving your health. For a person who weighs 200 pounds, a 5-percent weight loss is 10 pounds. A 10-percent loss would be 20 pounds.
One of these studies looked at obstructive sleep apnea, which is considered a chronic progressive disease that increases the risk of cardiovascular issues. A group of participants who were moderately obese and who had mild sleep apnea took part in this six-year study. At the start of the study, participants either received supervision on diet and exercise or only basic information about these choices. Five years later, the participants were assessed for both weight loss and sleep apnea. The researchers found that participants who successfully lost at least 5 percent of their weight saw an 80 percent reduction in the progression of obstructive sleep apnea. The participants whose weight remained the same didn’t experience this reduction in the progression of sleep apnea.
The other study analyzed patterns of weight gain prior to the diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. This large study involved 6,705 participants who were initially free of diabetes and who were followed, on average, over a 14-year period. The researchers identified three patterns of weight change in participants prior to the diagnosis of diabetes. Most of the participants had a constant body mass index (BMI) throughout the study. Another group consistently gained weight prior to their diabetes diagnosis, while a third group was severely obese throughout the study before they were diagnosed with diabetes.
Noting that most of the participants’ weight remained fairly stable during the study, researchers believe healthcare providers should shift their efforts in how they help people avoid type 2 diabetes. “These results suggest that strategies focusing on small weight reduction for the entire population may be more beneficial than predominantly focusing on weight loss for high-risk individuals,” the researchers stated.
These are just two of many health benefits that accrue from losing only a small percentage of weight. For instance, Dr. Nadia Pietrzykowska of the Obesity Action Coalition reports that losing 5 to10 percent of body weight can increase HDL (the "good") cholesterol by five points, which in turn lowers the risk of developing heart disease. Additionally, this type of weight loss decreases triglyceride levels in the blood by a significant amount. And losing 5 to 10 percent of your body weight can also lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure, thus lowering the dangers caused by hypertension. Losing 10 percent of your body weight also significantly lowers inflammation substances found in the blood, which otherwise could lead to strokes and heart attacks.
So how can you lose small amounts of weight? The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute suggests focusing on changing your behaviors so they support a healthy lifestyle as you lose weight. These behaviors should include setting attainable weight loss goals, eating a healthy diet and getting more physical activity. The Institute recommends trying to lose only one or two pounds weekly so you can focus on these behavior changes. Furthermore, maintaining this weight loss over time is healthier for you than yo-yo dieting, where which you lose and then regain a lot of weight.
National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. (ND). Facts about healthy weight.
Pietrzykowska, N. B. (ND). Benefits of 5-10 percent weight-loss. Obesity Action Coalition.
Tuomilehto, H., et al. (2014). The impact of weight reduction in the prevention of the progression of obstructive sleep apnea: An explanatory analysis of a 5-year observational follow-up trial. Sleep Medicine.
Vistisen, D., et al. (2014). Patterns of obesity development before the diagnosis of type 2 diabetes: The Whitehall II Cohort Study. PLOS Medicine.