Seven hidden benefits of weight loss

Looking great is its own reward, but losing weight offers so much more than merely appealing to your vanity.

by Alan Christianson — 

You incorporate protein in every meal, provide your body optimal nutrients, combine burst training with weight resistance four times each week, and turn down numerous late-night dates with your girlfriends in order to meet your eight-hour nightly sleep quota. Your herculean efforts have paid off. You are finally able to get into those size four skinny jeans for your best friend’s much-anticipated dinner party this Saturday night.

Looking great is its own reward, but losing weight offers so much more than merely appealing to your vanity. Here are seven post-weight-loss benefits you might not have realized because you were too busy checking out your sexy, lean figure in the mirror.

1. Live longer — Burn fat and you have a better chance of not only enjoying your twilight years but actually thriving during them. A 14-year study in the New England Journal of Medicine of 1.46 million adults concluded that mortality is lowest when you keep your body mass index (BMI) within the normal range of 20 to 24.9.

A healthy weight means you are less prone to the diseases that can steal decades from your life.

For instance, the study found that obese participants (with a BMI over 30) had a 40 to 80 percent higher risk of dying from cancer than people of a normal weight. Heart disease also skyrocketed — obese men were three times more likely to die from heart disease than those of a normal weight.

Living longer means nothing, however, if you cannot enjoy that time. Fortunately, your quality of life also improves when you lose weight.

A study in Obesity Research found that the more weight you lose, the better your quality of life will be when it comes to physical function, self-esteem and sexuality.

2. Alleviate arthritis — Excess weight increases stress on your knees, triggering cartilage breakdown and eventually arthritis. Overweight women are four times more likely to develop arthritis in the knee. For overweight men, that risk becomes five times higher.

Even losing a small amount of weight can reduce your risk for arthritis. And if you already have it, losing fat can reduce pain and cartilage breakdown.

In the well-known Framingham Heart Study, it was found that for every 11 pounds a woman lost, her risk of knee arthritis dropped by about 50 percent. (The converse also occurred: Women who gained weight increased their risk of developing knee arthritis later in life.) And do not think that your other joints are off the hook — studies have shown that excess weight can exacerbate arthritis throughout your body.

A study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found a strong relationship between body weight and arthritis. Maintaining a healthy weight, it concluded, can delay the onset of arthritis.

3. Reduce your risk for diabetes — Obesity is the major risk factor for type 2 diabetes, and about 80 to 90 percent of people with diabetes have a BMI above 30.

A study in the American Journal of Medicine of 21,000 men found that elevated BMI hugely influences the risk for diabetes, although physical activity can somewhat reduce that risk. The highly processed carbohydrate/low-fiber American diet practically invites type 2 diabetes.

Insulin hormones remove sugar from your blood and distribute it to your cells, which gives you energy. The higher your blood sugar level, the more insulin your pancreas produces. Insulin does one thing really well — it stores fat. Eventually, your cells burn out, and insulin resistance (the onset of diabetes) occurs.

A study at the National Institutes of Health showed that being a healthy weight can reduce your risk by up to 70 percent for type 2 diabetes. More good news is that every pound you lose improves your overall health. Of course, when you lose weight, you also reduce or eliminate the numerous complications of diabetes, which include hypoglycemia, atherosclerosis neuropathy, immune system dysfunction, depression and cognitive issues.

4. Reduce inflammation — Doctors have called inflammation the silent killer and have connected this condition with every degenerative disease, from cancer and cognitive decline to, yes, obesity. A vicious cycle ensues — obesity triggers inflammation, which in turn makes you fatter.

There are two types of inflammation. When you cut your finger, acute inflammation signals white blood cells to the area. You want this kind of inflammation; otherwise, you would bleed to death. But sometimes inflammation goes into overdrive and lingers around far longer than necessary or healthy. Rather than protecting the body, it begins to damage it.

Chronic inflammation, for instance, could explain why overweight people are more susceptible to heart disease, cancer and other illnesses.

Losing weight reduces inflammation. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that weight loss reduces overall inflammation in older obese persons. And a study in the journal Clinical Science found that weight loss is the primary factor in significantly reducing inflammatory markers.

Besides weight loss, a proper diet can reduce inflammation. The standard American diet is high in pro-inflammatory foods like wheat and vegetable oils. When you shift to fat-burning, anti-inflammatory foods like fresh fruit and vegetables, along with omega-3 fatty acids, you also help combat inflammation.

5. Have better sex — Weight loss might be the spark that reignites your passion. When you are lean, your partner finds you more attractive and you feel more confident. That confidence spills over into the bedroom.

Being overweight can have the opposite effect on your sex drive. A study in the journal Obesity found that approximately 30 percent of obese people have reduced levels of sex drive, desire and/or performance. Also, researchers have discovered that insulin resistance and other obesity-related conditions restrict the tiny arteries that distribute blood to the genitals.

Being overweight will also age you sexually. A study in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons found that middle-aged morbidly obese men have sexual dysfunction issues equivalent to normal weight men 20 years older. Not surprisingly, their sexual health vastly improved when they lost weight.

A fat-burning diet rich in wild salmon and other seafood, green leafy vegetables, berries and even indulgent foods in moderation, such as dark chocolate and red wine, can boost your libido and balance your blood sugar so that you do not have the fatigue and other problems that zap your sex drive.

6. Better mental function — A lean body mass reduces your risk factors for brain diseases like Alzheimer’s, sleep apnea and stroke. A study in the journal Surgery for Obesity and Related Disorders found that losing weight could also improve cognitive function.

Researchers here measured memory and attention levels in 150 overweight participants. Each participant completed mental skills tests to determine recall and attention at the beginning of the study and again 12 weeks later, after losing the weight. When the study began, about 24 percent of the patients showed impaired learning and 23 percent showed signs of poor memory recall when tested. By the end of the study, participants had lost an average of 17 percent of their initial body weight and boosted their scores to an average or above-average cognitive range.

Researchers concluded that being overweight impacts metabolic pathways that affect how your brain processes information. Shedding unwanted pounds provides the spark plug to boost cognition.

7. Better mood — Lose weight and you will enjoy better self-esteem. You will feel great about your body and that infectious confidence shows. Because you are eating healthier, you are not sending your blood sugar on a roller coaster ride that could cause you to crash mid-morning, suffer lethargy and brain fog, or snap at a coworker.

A study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that a high-protein breakfast reduces your levels of ghrelin (the hormone that tells your brain to “eat now”), much better than a carb-heavy breakfast does. When ghrelin levels stay elevated, you are hungry, tired, cranky and hardly enthusiastic about the day ahead.

But when you start your day with a protein-based meal such as a smoothie loaded with berries, fiber, a quality protein powder and coconut milk, you have steady, sustained energy, which means you stay full, focused and feeling amazing all morning.

So now, when you glance in the mirror to admire your slimmer body, remember also to give yourself kudos for the hidden benefits that you can now enjoy from losing all that weight.

 

Alan Christianson, N.M.D., has been practicing in Scottsdale, Ariz., for more than 14 years. He is the author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Thyroid Disease. He practices at Integrative Health along with Drs. Ann Lovick and Phil Wazny. 480-657-0003 or www.integrativehealthcare.com.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 31, Number 2, April/May 2012.

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