In a statement that will surprise zero people: Losing weight is tough. And sometimes starting is the hardest, no matter if you’re looking to lose only five to 10 pounds, or if you’re embarking on the first five pounds in a 50-pound journey.
We’ve got happy news for all you would-be losers: Shedding just five percent of your body weight does a lot. It’s enough to decrease total body fat, visceral fat (the dangerous kind that hugs your organs), and liver fat. Plus, that small tip of the scale can also lower your blood pressure and improve your insulin sensitivity, reports a new study in the journal Cell Metabolism. All together this can also mean a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, study authors say.
“Our results show that you get a large ‘bang for your buck’ with a five percent weight loss. But an additional 10 to 15 percent weight loss continues to cause even more improvements in measures like blood lipids and blood pressure,” says study co-author Samuel Klein, MD, director at the Center for Human Nutrition at Washington University School of Medicine.
So for those times you might be frustrated (maybe you’re down four pounds instead of the 40 pounds you were hoping for), remember this: Meaningful change takes time. Be sure to keep your non-scale victories in sight, and consider all the ways your small improvements have already done your body good. Here, five more reasons to be proud of every pound lost.
5 Big Benefits of Even a Small Weight Loss
1. Strengthening Your Ticker
High blood cholesterol levels cause the fat-like substance to stick to the insides of your arteries, increasing heart attack risk. Luckily, a modest weight drop can get you out of the danger zone. Overweight and obese women who lost weight over two years decreased their total cholesterol scores, “regardless of the amount of weight lost,” according to a 2013 study in the Journal of the American Heart Association. Drop as little as 10 percent of your body weight and you might also benefit from lower “bad” LDL cholesterol, insulin and triglycerides (another type of fat in your blood that ups heart disease risk).
2. Living Better
You don’t have to reach your goal weight to be happy. In fact, in a 2009 study on 900 weight loss patients, those who shed five to 10 percent of their body weight scored higher on measures of physical function and self-esteem. The researchers point out that just knowing that losing a bit is helping in these areas can keep you motivated to lose more, even when times get tough. There’s other evidence suggesting you’ll also benefit from more energy and vitality. Translation: You just feel great.
3. Improving Your Mood
According to a preliminary study from the University of Pennsylvania, when obese adults shed five percent of their body weight, they reported better sleep and improved moods within six months. The more sunshine-y ‘tude might not come from the weight loss itself (other studies indicate that the restriction of dieting can be a drag on your psyche), but the fact that they logged 21.6 more minutes of sleep per night versus just 1.2 minutes in a control group. Adequate sleep keeps frustration and irritability at bay, and better sleep also helps regulate your appetite, possibly helping you lose more weight. We call that a win-win.
4. Warding Off Inflammation
Inflammation is a big buzzword these days, and for good reason. While acute, short-term inflammation is a good thing (it’s your body’s way of responding to things like injuries), having low-grade chronic inflammation (the kind that sticks around long-term) can increase your risk for disease, like heart disease, stroke and metabolic syndrome. It’s not a lost battle, though. One study published in Nutrition Research put obese people (most were in their 20s and none had diabetes) on a diet and exercise program for 12 weeks. On average, they lost six pounds, but that was enough to decrease inflammation and enhance immune function, likely because it drives down the release of proinflammatory proteins stored in fat, the study authors concluded.
5. Keeping Joints Squeaky Clean
You might not think much about it now, but trust us, you want healthy joints as you age. (You do want to feel comfortable walking up the stairs for decades to come, right?) Excess weight can put more wear and tear on knee cartilage, leading to a painful condition called osteoarthritis. If you’re overweight, research shows that losing 11 pounds can decrease your likelihood of OA by more than 50 percent. Here’s to signing up for 5Ks well into your older years.