Losing Weight and Getting Healthier

Updated:Jan 7,2013

Adult Man Weighing Himself and Giving Thumbs UpObesity takes toll on your health.

If you’re carrying around extra weight, you’re not alone.

Between 60 percent and 70 percent of Americans are overweight or obese, which means they’re 20 percent or more above their ideal weight.

The problem is simple: Too much food combined with too little regular physical activity can lead to unhealthy weight gain and obesity. But the life-threatening health problems caused by obesity aren’t simple at all.

Being obese puts a huge strain on your heart, increasing the work it has to do. Too much weight raises your risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer. It also raises your blood pressure and blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and lowers HDL (good) cholesterol levels. It can make diabetes more likely to develop, too.

“Patients who are obese also can have obstructive sleep apnea that can lead to pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure in the lungs),” said Robert H. Eckel, M.D., an American Heart Association volunteer and professor of medicine and physiology and biophysics at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. “The risk for pulmonary embolism, or blood clots that break loose from the pelvis or legs, is also higher.”

Getting Healthier
If you’re not sure if you weigh too much, start by learning your body mass index or BMI using our BMI Calculator, which is a good indicator of whether you’re at a healthy weight.

The next step is to remember that losing the weight isn’t hopeless. Even dropping as few as 10 pounds can lower your risk of heart disease and help you feel better.

Keep losing weight, and you’ll probably experience fewer joint and muscle pains, regulate your blood pressure, reduce the burden on your heart and circulatory system and even sleep better.

“The initial emphasis should be placed on eating less,” Dr. Eckel said. “A deficit of 500 calories a day predicts one pound lost per week. More physical activity is also important but perhaps more so to maintain the weight loss once the weight is down.”
 
Here are tips for healthier eating and working physical activity into your routine. Start small and don’t get discouraged!

  • Visit the American Heart Association’s Healthy Cooking website to learn to use nutritious ingredients and follow a healthy preparation routine.
     
  • Use our Healthy Diet Goal guidelines to make smart choices to benefit your heart and your overall health.
     
  • Get tips on making heart-smart choices at the store.
     
  • Learn to eat healthy when dining out.
     
  • Learn how to read and understand the nutrition facts and food labels to make healthier choices.
Getting Active
Even if you’ve never exercised — or if it has been years — it’s easy to get active with these tips. (Generally, you do not need to consult a healthcare provider before becoming physically active unless you have a chronic condition. Healthcare providers can help you attain and maintain regular physical activity by providing advice on appropriate types and amounts for your individual needs.)
  • Do housework yourself instead of hiring someone else to do it.
     
  • Work in the garden or mow the grass. Using a riding mower doesn't count! Rake leaves, prune, dig and pick up trash.
     
  • Go out for a short walk before breakfast, after dinner or both! Start with 5-10 minutes and work up to 30 minutes.
     
  • Walk or bike to the corner store instead of driving.
     
  • When walking, pick up the pace from leisurely to brisk. Choose a hilly route. When watching TV, sit up instead of lying on the sofa. Or stretch. Better yet, spend a few minutes pedaling on your stationary bicycle while watching TV — and hide the remote control.
     
  • Stand up while talking on the telephone.
     
  • Walk the dog.
     
  • Park farther away at the shopping mall and walk the extra distance. Wear your walking shoes and sneak in an extra lap or two around the mall.
     
  • Stretch to reach items in high places and squat or bend to look at items at floor level.
     
  • Keep exercise equipment repaired — and use it!
Although it’s never too late to get healthier, “the bottom line is that obesity needs to be prevented,” Dr. Eckel said. Learn more about Life’s Simple 7TM and getting on the path to a healthier you.

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