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A Little Bit of Weight Loss Goes a Long Way


To lose weight, it’s best to set small, achievable goals. One success leads to the next. How much weight do you need to lose? Research suggests losing as little as 5% of your starting weight will make a big difference.

Too much weight increases your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis looked into how much weight loss would be necessary to reduce the risk of these life-threatening conditions.

Food for Thought

Their study, published in the journal Cell Metabolism, examined 40 obese volunteers who showed signs of insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is a pre-diabetic condition that interferes with the ability of cells to use insulin for absorbing glucose—the sugar your body makes from digesting carbohydrates. Glucose is used as energy by all the cells and organs in our bodies. If unable to get into the cells, glucose builds up in the blood and damages the lining of blood vessels. Cells become starved for energy, triggering the pancreas to produce even more insulin in an effort to help cells absorb glucose.

Blood vessel damage caused by glucose attracts plaque deposits. Left unchecked, insulin resistance ruins the ability of the pancreas to produce insulin, while the body’s cells lose their ability to use insulin. The outcome is Type 2 diabetes, which further increases the risk of heart disease. In fact, heart disease is the number one killer of people with Type 2 diabetes.

5% Dividend

In the study, volunteers were assigned randomly to programs designed to either maintain their weight or to lose 5%, 10%, or 15% of their weight. Those who lost only 5% showed significant improvements in pancreatic function and the ability of cells in their body to use insulin. Those who lost slightly more showed even greater improvement. The takeaway from the study is that if your weight has you worried about your health, take heart that losing as little as 5% of your body weight will send you on your way to a healthier future.

SMART Goal Setting

Focus first on what you want to accomplish today. Achieving daily goals will give you the ability to meet weekly, monthly, and yearly goals. Setting SMART goals will help build your confidence to commit to the 5% target:

  • S – Specific
  • M – Measurable
  • A – Attainable
  • R – Rewarding
  • T – Timely

Unlike the general statement “losing a pound,” walking 300 minutes in the next week is specific. Instead of “walking more often,” 300 minutes a week is measurable. If 300 minutes a week is unrealistic, 150 minutes a week may be more attainable. If you don’t like to walk, perhaps riding a bike or swimming would be more rewarding. Finally, one week is the timely standard that ultimately determines whether the goal is met.

Article by Bill Jennings, ACSM-CEP, Touchmark Fitness Professional