There are plenty of health benefits that come with weight loss -- besides the perk of just being able to fit in your skinny jeans. Shedding the weight isn't just about getting more attractive. It's also about making your body healthier from the inside out, improving the quality -- and the quantity -- of your life. Here are five motivating health benefits of losing weight:
1. Reduce your cancer risk.
Obesity is a risk factor for certain types of cancer, including endometrial, esophageal, pancreatic and breast cancer (after menopause). Some 40 percent of cases are attributed to higher body weight. There are a few proposed reasons that carrying extra weight may increase cancer risk. One is that there is too much inflammation in the body. Another, the fat cells themselves stimulate hormones that may affect cancer cell growth. Losing weight helps reduce your risk, and regular exercise (helpful when it comes to shedding pounds) can also be beneficial in preventing cancer.
2. Ditch the diabetes.
Carrying extra weight is also a risk factor for diabetes, so it makes sense that losing a little can help reduce your risk. This is good news for the 1.4 million Americans who are diagnosed with diabetes every year, according to the American Diabetes Association. In one small study, obese individuals with Type 2 diabetes who followed a calorie-restricted diet (600 calories/day) for eight weeks effectively reversed their diabetes, bringing their blood sugar into normal range. Another study found that losing as little as 5 percent of their body weight helped obese folks reduce their risk for Type 2 diabetes as well as heart disease.
3. Give your heart some help.
Being overweight is a risk factor on its own for heart disease. But losing a little bit of weight can help your heart by decreasing other risk factors as well. Overweight and obese individuals with Type 2 diabetes who lost about 5 to 10 percent of their weight improved their blood pressure, LDL (aka "bad") cholesterol and triglycerides, according to a study in Diabetes Care. Bonus: The greater the weight loss, the greater the improvements in those risk factors.
4. Get a better night's sleep.
Who doesn't want to get more shut-eye? Turns out, individuals who lost weight and then maintained that loss reported higher sleep quality and longer sleep durations, according to a study in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine. "Previous studies have demonstrated that obesity is associated with increased prevalence of sleep problems, like obstructive sleep apnea, and that losing weight can lead to clinically relevant improvements in both sleep apnea and overall sleep quality," says Kathryn M. Ross, Ph.D., M.P.H., lead study author from the Weight Control & Diabetes Research Center at the Alpert Medical School of Brown University and the Miriam Hospital in Providence, R.I.
5. Boost your outlook on life.
Weight loss isn't just for your body; it can also be good for your mind. A review of 36 studies, published in the journal Appetite, found that weight loss was associated with improvements in self-esteem, body image, symptoms of depression and health-related quality of life. Make sure you don't feel deprived when you're trying to slim down, though. Choose a low-calorie version of your favorite recipe that's still delicious and lets you enjoy the foods you love.
(EatingWell is a magazine and website devoted to healthy eating as a way of life. Online at www.eatingwell.com.)