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What Losing Weight Does to Your Body and Brain

Although we now know that there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to a healthy body weight,[1]https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/18/style/is-bmi-a-scam.html science shows that shedding excess weight, particularly belly fat, can have huge benefits for your body and your brain.

Not only will losing weight give you more energy, you’ll also lower your risk for serious disease, boost your mood, supercharge your memory, and improve your sleep.

The good news is, you don’t need to lose a lot to feel the benefits. Even just 5-10 pounds can have a huge impact.[2]https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/losing_weight/index.html

Read on to learn about how losing weight will benefit your body, your brain and your sense of well-being.

7 Top Weight Loss Benefits

Improved Mood

If you’re looking to shed some pounds, working out is a key piece of the puzzle. Research shows that regular exercise can lower the risk of obesity and weight gain.[3]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6683051/ A bonus: It can also improve your mood. Perhaps you’ve heard of the “runner’s high,” that feeling of elation you get after going for a run. There’s a scientific reason for it: Aerobic exercise like running, swimming, or biking produces endorphins, a type of brain chemical that relieves stress and pain.[4]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5928534/

Working out also helps regulate your stress hormones, like cortisol. Initially, exercise causes a spike in cortisol, followed by a drop a few hours later, which allows cortisol levels in the body to stabilize.[5]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18787373/

You don’t need to join CrossFit or train for a marathon to feel the benefits. Any aerobic exercise, no matter the intensity, will have a mood-boosting and stress-relieving effect. In a study of 24 women with depression, exercise of any intensity caused a significant improvement in mood.[6]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27423168/

More Brain Power

It might seem surprising that the size of your waistline could impact your mental function, but a growing body of research shows a link between obesity and memory loss. A 2016 study of young adults aged 18-35 found that those with a higher Body Mass Index (BMI) performed significantly worse on memory tasks than those with a normal BMI.

Excess weight could also shrink parts of the brain associated with learning and memory. In a 2010 study from Boston University, researchers found that middle-aged adults with excess belly fat had smaller total brain volume, particularly in the hippocampus, a brain region that plays an important role in memory.[7]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2933649/ Another study found that obesity in middle age increased brain age by 10 years, raising the risk of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.[8]https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0197458016301403

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Increased Longevity

When you lose weight, you lower your risk of developing chronic health conditions like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, mental illness, and osteoarthritis.[9]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2879283/

In one study, sedentary obese people who lost 5% of their body weight after 3.5 months saw a drop in plasma levels of insulin, glucose, triglycerides (fat in the blood), and leptin (the hormone that regulates fat storage) — all risk factors for heart disease and diabetes. [10]https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/benefits-moderate-weight-loss-people-obesity

In a 2017 study, 68% of diabetic participants who lost 33 pounds or more went into remission for type 2 diabetes.

Lower Inflammation

Losing weight may also lower inflammation in the body. Inflammation isn’t always a bad thing – it’s your body’s natural response to dealing with an invader and repairing the damage. But it becomes a problem when your body isn’t able to get rid of certain invaders, so it keeps releasing inflammatory chemicals but to no avail. This type of inflammation can carry on for years, and it’s known as chronic inflammation. When your body produces a steady stream of inflammatory chemicals over a long period of time, your system is constantly under stress, putting you at a higher risk of developing serious diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and diabetes.

Obesity is linked to increased inflammation in the body. In one study, weight gain caused an uptick in an inflammatory marker in the blood known as C-Reactive Protein (CRP)[11]https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2589936819300167, while another study showed that losing weight led to a decrease in inflammatory markers.[12]https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11695-019-03926-0

Better Sleep

Losing extra pounds can also help you sleep better. In a 2012 study of 77 overweight people with type 2 diabetes or pre-diabetes, an average weight loss of around 15 pounds led to a 20% improvement in their overall sleep score.[13]https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121106125450.htm The study found that losing belly fat in particular improved sleep problems such as sleep apnea, insomnia, daytime fatigue, restless sleep, and excessive sleepiness.

Obstructive sleep apnea — when your breathing stops and starts while you sleep due to a blocked airway — is most common in those who are overweight or obese.[14]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5836788/ When a person is overweight, fatty tissues can block their upper airway while they sleep, causing disrupted breathing.

Studies show that people who are overweight sleep less and wake more often than those who don’t carry extra weight.[15]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18253159/ [16]​​https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15642870/

Sleep is one of the key building blocks of a happy, healthy life – research shows it improves brain function,[17]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1739867/, lowers your risk for chronic disease[18]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19095474/ [19]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20040890/ and boosts the immune system.[20]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3256323/

Increased sex drive

Now, no one is saying you can’t have an active and fulfilling sex life if you’re carrying some extra pounds. But growing evidence does show a link between excess weight, libido, and sexual performance.[21]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22522887/ [22]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22293982/

In a study of more than 2,000 adults undergoing weight loss surgery, about half of women and 54% of men reported feeling moderately or severely dissatisfied with their sex lives.[23]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27986585/

In numerous studies, obese men are more likely to suffer from erectile dysfunction than non-obese men. [24]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22522887/ Those carrying excess weight tend to have lower testosterone levels, the primary male sex hormone, making it harder to achieve an erection. Obesity can also cause a build-up of fats in the artery walls, reducing blood flow to organs, including the penis.

There’s a psychological component too. People who are overweight may suffer from a negative body image or feel embarrassed to undress in front of their partner. [25]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26608946/

More energy

When you eat a diet high in inflammatory foods (think processed meats, refined sugar, and fried foods), you wreak havoc with your gut. Too much bad bacteria and not enough good bacteria throws your gut microbiome out of whack, impacting everything from your immune system to your mental health to your skin.[26]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4848870/ Signs of an imbalanced gut include fatigue, digestive issues, difficulty concentrating, and food sensitivities.

Changing what you eat is one of the most powerful ways to heal your gut, and a healthy gut is key to feeling energized, both physically and mentally. Once you cut back on sugar, consume more whole foods, and up your fiber intake, you naturally start to feel more energized. When your gut is able to do its job and digest food well, that translates to benefits for your brain and your body.

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