It may be a small step toward your larger goal, but losing just 5 percent of your body weight can provide a major health boost.
Want to lose 30 pounds? 50? Perhaps you have a larger number in mind. Regardless of your ultimate weight-loss goal, starting off with a small, manageable number is a smart strategy for staying motivated. And not only will it make sticking to your weight-loss plan easier, but you’ll also see some major health benefits from losing just 5 percent of your body weight — or 10 pounds for a 200-pound person.
“The research shows that even if you don’t reach a weight or BMI that the charts consider to be optimal, you can be successful at improving your health, reducing your risk of chronic diseases, and improving your quality of life with a weight loss of 5 percent,” says Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, a dietitian in New York and Los Angeles and author of Slim Down Now: Shed Pounds and Inches with Real Food, Real Fast.
Shedding this amount of weight can lower your blood pressure and triglyceride levels — plus put you in the proper mindset to stay committed to your healthy eating and exercise routine. And that's not all. By losing 5 percent of your body weight, you can also...
- Boost your heart health. Lose a small amount of weight and you can boost your heart health in more ways than one. A 2011 study published in Diabetes Care found that people who lost between 5 and 10 percent of their body weight experienced both a boost in beneficial HDL cholesterol and a decrease in triglycerides. “Both of these changes are enough to lower the risk of heart disease,” says Sass. Subjects also experienced a drop in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure — which may decrease stroke risk.
- Lower your cancer risk. Inflammation in the body can increase cancer risk, and research shows that weight loss can decrease inflammation levels in the body. Scientists at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle found that post-menopausal women who lost 5 to 10 percent of their body weight and took 2,000 IU of vitamin D daily noticed a significant reduction in levels of a pro-inflammatory cytokine called interleukin-6, a marker that’s linked with a higher risk of endometrial cancer, ovarian cancer, and death in patients with cardiovascular disease.
- Reduce symptoms of sleep apnea. Obesity is associated with a four times higher risk of obstructive sleep apnea, a serious condition that involves pauses in breathing while sleeping. So it makes sense that losing 5 to 10 percent of your body weight can improve the condition. In fact, according to the Obesity Action Coalition, dropping this amount of weight can improve sleep apnea and may even allow someone with the condition to work with their sleep physician to wean themselves from a CPAP breathing machine, a device used to help keep the airways open during sleep.
- Catch more ZZZ's. Even if you don’t have sleep apnea, losing weight can lead to longer and more restful sleep, according to a 2014 study conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania. People who lost 5 percent or more of their body weight reported snoozing about 22 minutes longer per night — and having better-quality sleep. “Clients have told me that small amounts of weight loss have improved sleep, and that alone translates to more energy,” says Sass.
- Lower your diabetes risk. Losing just a small amount of weight can significantly reduce your risk of diabetes. The 2011 Study published in the journal Diabetes Care also revealed that people who lost at least 5 percent of their body weight were more likely to drop their hemoglobin A1C level, an estimate of blood-sugar levels over a 3-month time period, by half a percentage point. “This is close to the effect that some anti-diabetes pills have on blood sugar,” says Tara Gidus Collingwood, MS, RDN, a board-certified specialist in sports dietetics based in Orlando, Florida. This drop may be enough to move someone at risk of developing the condition out of the prediabetes zone, which is defined as an A1C within between 5.7 and 6.4 percent. In fact, if you have prediabetes, dropping 5 percent of your body weight can lower your diabetes risk by 58 percent.
- Boost your mood. If your weight-loss plan includes a fitness routine, shedding pounds will also have you feeling happier. Exercise boosts the release of endorphins in the body and helps combat stress, giving your mood a lift. “Positivity breeds positivity,” says Sass. “If you begin to focus on positive changes like improvements in energy or measurable things like blood pressure, you begin to feel more positive overall.” And research supports this: The study out of the University of Pennsylvania also found that those who lost at least 5 percent of their starting weight noticed an increase in mood that remained significant when researchers revisited participants 24 months later.
- Increase your sex drive. “I've had clients tell me that the increase in energy, improvement in mood, and boost in self confidence from weight loss have translated into wanting to be more physically active, including walking and having sex,” says Sass. Plus, this is all helpful if you’re trying to get pregnant: A 2012 study published in Obesity Surgery found that infertility markers and rates of conception improved in obese patients with a 5 percent weight loss.