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health-benefits-of-losing-weight

Science-Backed Health Benefits of Losing Weight


by Matt Durkin
MSc Nutrition Specialist
01/10/2019


According to the Daily Telegraph, a third of us make a New Year’s Resolution to “lose weight” each year. That makes it the second most common goal likely to be set, coming in just behind the almost synonymous “exercising more”. In other words - there are lots of us who want to slim down and get in shape.

The fantastic thing about weight loss is that there’s more beyond the cosmetic benefits; it also offers a multitude of long-term health benefits too. 

If you’re currently looking for some inspiration to start your own weight loss journey then here’s how your health could be enhanced... 

Metabolic Syndrome

“Metabolic syndrome” is the name given to a whole range of interrelated conditions that can impact one another. Each element can affect others, leading to a “waterfall” of health problems if left unchecked. Here are some of the most important elements… 

Insulin Resistance

When we consume food, it is digested in the gut before the nutrients are transported around the body in our bloodstream. As the level of glucose in your blood rises, so your pancreas releases a hormone called insulin to bring blood sugar back down to safe levels. For example, it may shuttle glucose into cells where it can be used for short-term energy, or alternatively, it can trigger the storage in the form of fat.  

Studies have shown that both being overweight and regularly overeating, especially foods that are high in refined sugars, can result in a condition known as “insulin resistance”. Insulin resistance means that the body reacts more weakly to the insulin you produce. Sugars are not utilised effectively, leading to higher levels remaining in the bloodstream.

Think of it rather like overworking a muscle; too many big swings, too often, and the body becomes tired of responding. 

Insulin resistance can lead to a number of potential complications. Firstly, your body may try to ramp up insulin production, hoping that by producing more it’ll stimulate the desired effect. In extreme cases, however, this can result in the pancreas “burning out” from over-exertion.

On the other hand, consistently high blood sugar is extremely dangerous in itself, and can lead to the development of type 2 diabetes. In extreme cases the results can be even more serious, damaging the blood vessels themselves. This, in turn, can result in health conditions including heart and kidney disease or vision problems.

Fortunately, losing weight can reduce your chances of suffering from insulin resistance. Exercise has also been shown to stave off insulin resistance, so sits perfectly alongside a calorie-controlled weight loss diet.    

Type 2 Diabetes

We’ve already seen that being overweight can lead to insulin resistance. The more overweight you are, and the longer time period over which your BMI is too high, the greater the impact. In some cases, this can lead to the development of type 2 diabetes. 

Type 2 diabetes itself can require dietary changes, the management of blood sugar with insulin injections and can result in a number of associated health conditions including nerve damage, blindness and an increased risk of heart attacks or strokes.  

Fortunately, type 2 diabetes doesn’t necessarily need to be for life. As discussed here previously, many cases of type 2 diabetes can be reversed through the judicious application of weight loss, an appropriate diet and regular exercise. All the same, the sooner you start losing weight, the lower your odds of developing the condition in the first place.  

Cholesterol Levels 

For many people, “cholesterol” is a dirty word. We’ve all heard that cholesterol is bad for you, but that’s not really the whole story. 

Cholesterol is a perfectly natural molecule that actually serves several important biological processes. 

You’ve probably heard of “high density” (HDL) or “low density” (LDL) versions - but what does this really mean?

HDL takes cholesterol away from your organs, to be filtered by the liver and removed from the body. It is therefore considered “good” cholesterol. 

In contrast, LDL takes it towards the arteries. It is here that cholesterol can do damage, clogging these essential blood vessels. The end result is a condition known as “atherosclerosis” - where plaque builds up, causing the obstructions we experience as heart attacks. 

The key to good health is, therefore, keeping these two opposing forces in balance. Ultimately, raising HDL and/or reducing LDL is likely to reduce your chances of serious cardiovascular events in later life. 

Statistically speaking the results are quite clear. For example, one study found that even a very modest weight loss of just 5-10% of your overall weight “significantly” increases good cholesterol levels. 

A second extensive study not only tracked cholesterol levels during a weight loss phase but also for 18 months thereafter. They reported “long term improvements” in a range of factors including HDL and LDL cholesterol as well as blood pressure and insulin response in cases where weight loss was maintained. 

Hypertension 

Hypertension is the fancy name that doctors give to high blood pressure. High blood pressure might not sound serious, but the effects can be surprisingly dire. Firstly, it can cause the heart to work much harder, potentially causing issues in the future. Secondly, and just as importantly, it can result in damage to the blood vessels. Lastly, in extreme cases, blood clots can arise, leading to strokes or heart attacks. It’s definitely not something you, therefore, want to encourage.

Once again, however, research has proven time and again that even modest weight loss can help to maintain healthy blood pressure. The reason is quite simple; the heavier you are, the more pressure is exerted on your blood vessels. This forces the heart to work harder in order to pump a suitable volume around your body. Just think of how difficult it would be to blow up a balloon if someone else was deliberately squeezing it shut. As you lose weight, this pressure eases and your heart can function more normally.  

Interestingly, scientists have even been able to quantify the effect on lifespan from reducing hypertension as a result of weight loss. Their data showed that a 10% loss in body weight reduced the number of years with hypertension by 1.2 years on average, leading to an increased life expectancy of between 2 to 7 months. 

Sleep Quality 

Losing weight has the potential to help you sleep better. If you find yourself waking up in the morning still feeling absolutely drained, then a condition known as “sleep apnoea” may be to blame. Obstructive sleep apnoea – “OSA” for short – occurs when our breathing is interrupted during the night. Many sufferers aren’t even aware that they’re affected, as you may not wake up fully when oxygen deprived. 

Research has shown that between 40% and 70% of people who are overweight suffer from OSA. The reason is quite simple: greater weight pushing down on your throat while you’re lying in bed. On the one hand, this means that the more overweight you are, the greater this problem is likely to be. Equally, it means that almost any degree of weight loss is likely to help. 

As an example, in one study a group of volunteers suffering from disturbed sleep were put onto a weight loss plan for 12 months. On average, individuals lost almost half of their excess body fat during this time. The changes in body weight resulted in a 14% reduction in snoring, a 31% decrease in sleep apnoea and a 35% decrease in daytime sleepiness. 

So lose weight and sleep better!

Joint Health

If you’re active, young and healthy then the subject of arthritis may not cross your mind regularly. After all, surely arthritis is something that only older people suffer from?

While it may be true that arthritis is most prevalent in older individuals, for some people the symptoms can begin much earlier. According to the NHS, your risk of arthritis starts to rise at the age of 40, with some people affected even earlier. 

Whatever the case, it makes sense to take steps to avoid the risk avoid painful, swollen joints in the future. 

Unsurprisingly, carrying around excess weight puts added pressure on the joints. This can increase the loss of cartilage which is considered central to the appearance of osteoarthritis. 

Studies have repeatedly demonstrated that losing weight reduces this pressure, and so can ease joint-related conditions. One study found, for example, that “each pound of weight lost will result in a 4-fold reduction in the load exerted on the knee per step”. This has to be good news for anyone unfortunate enough to already be experiencing joint pain. 

However losing weight before any symptoms arise may even reduce your odds of developing the condition in the first place. A study of 3,617 women found that those with a higher BMI were far more likely to develop arthritis over time. Furthermore, those who gained additional weight “were at a significantly higher risk of developing arthritis.”  

Mental Health & Depression

The mind and body are intricately linked, with each influencing the other. Over the years we’ve seen negative mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and stress increase in prevalence considerably. Indeed, the Mental Health Foundation claims that almost 20% of the population experiences depression, making it the second leading cause of years lived with a disability worldwide.

Interestingly, however, it seems that losing excess weight might be at least part of the solution. 

Scientists followed 487 volunteers over an extended period of time, tracking their body weight while asking them to complete regular questionnaires to monitor mental health. They not only found a direct relationship between increased weight and symptoms of depression but that the data also pointed to “sustained improvement with weight loss”.  

Cancer

Researchers have long noted that there seems to be a relationship between body weight and some cancers. The more overweight you are, the more likely it is that you will suffer from specific forms of cancer. Examples of those known to have a relationship include breast, colon, kidney and oesophageal cancers.

Possibly the most striking research carried out in this regard involved an incredible 49,514 women who were tracked over a period of 26 years. In that time, over 4,000 cases of cancer were identified. The data showed that 15% of those cases could be attributed to a weight gain of 2kg or more. 

More broadly, other research has suggested that a 5 point increase in your BMI increases your chances of dying from cancer by 10%.

In summary, it is worth one final wide-ranging study which concluded that “intentional weight loss may well lead to meaningful reductions in cancer risk.”

Longevity

We all want to live long (and healthy) life. As we have seen, losing weight can do far more than just making you look good on your summer holiday. By reducing your chances of metabolic syndrome, helping you to sleep better, fighting against mental health issues and avoiding some cancers there’s also a good chance that you’ll prolong your lifespan. Just as importantly, the statistics suggest that you’ll also be healthier as well as longer-lived - allowing you to get the very most out of life.

Lastly if you’d like a helping hand to get started then why not consider trying out one of our new slimming shakes? Click here for more information.
 



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