- Losing weight has many health benefits — and you don’t need to lose that much weight to achieve them.
- Research shows that losing just 5% to 10% of your body weight may improve mental health and reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and certain cancers.
- Weight loss may also improve your sleep, raise self-esteem, and boost sex drive and energy levels.
- This article was medically reviewed by Jason R. McKnight, MD, MS, a family medicine physician and clinical assistant professor at Texas A&M College of Medicine.
- This article is part of Insider’s guide on How To Lose Weight.
Whether you want to lose 10 pounds or 50, shedding extra weight is tough. If you’ve tried before and fell short of your goal, it can be hard to stay motivated.
But you don’t necessarily need to lose a ton of weight to experience health benefits, says Mir Ali, MD, a bariatric surgeon and medical director of MemorialCare Surgical Weight Loss Center at Orange Coast Medical Center.
In fact, research shows losing as little as 5% of your body weight can improve your health in many ways. Here are 10 proven health benefits of weight loss and tips for how to lose weight safely.
1. Helps regulate blood sugar and diabetes
Losing weight improves insulin sensitivity in people with type 2 diabetes, says Preeti Pusalkar, a certified clinical nutritionist with Hudson Medical Center, a primary care provider in New York City.
Weight loss reduces adipose tissue, which allows the body to manage blood sugar more effectively. Plus, you don’t have to lose that much weight to see results. Research has found that just a 5% reduction in body weight improved blood sugar levels in adults.
2. Improved heart health
Losing weight can also improve heart health by reducing pressure on arteries, meaning the heart doesn’t have to work as hard to pump blood through the body. The result is lower blood pressure and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels — the “bad” kind of cholesterol that can increase your risk of heart disease, Pusalkar says.
And it doesn’t matter if you lose weight through diet and exercise or weight-loss surgery like metabolic surgery — you’ll reap benefits regardless, according to a large 2020 study.
Researchers examined the effects of weight loss surgery on obese patients who either had weight loss surgery or who lost weight through lifestyle changes. The risk of heart disease for the surgical group decreased after a 5% to 10% loss of body weight while the nonsurgical group saw a decrease after losing about 20% of body weight.
3. Decreased risk of stroke
Excess weight can increase blood pressure, and therefore your risk of stroke. This is because high blood pressure puts a strain on your blood vessels, making them stiffer and more likely to cause blood to clot.
“Losing weight helps improve the efficiency of the heart due to less constricted blood vessels,” Pusalkar says.
4. Better sleep
Overweight people are more likely to suffer from sleep apnea — a disorder characterized by disrupted breathing while sleeping. Excess weight can increase fat deposits in your neck, which can obstruct your airways.
If you suffer from sleep apnea, losing weight likely won’t entirely cure the condition. However, losing just 10% to 15% of your body weight can improve sleep quality and reduce the severity of sleep apnea in moderately obese patients, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
5. Improved mobility
Losing weight alleviates pressure on knees and joints, which can improve mobility, Pusalkar says. A large 2012 study of obese adults with type 2 diabetes found as little as a 1% drop in weight cut mobility limitations, such as difficulty walking or climbing stairs, by more than 7%.
6. Higher self-esteem
While there is no direct correlation between weight loss and self-esteem, some studies show that weight loss can improve mood and self-confidence.
A 2014 review examined 36 studies to determine the psychological benefits of weight loss. Researchers found consistent improvements in body image, self-worth, and general well-being among subjects who lost weight.
7. Decreased joint pain
Excess weight can cause joints to become stressed, damaged, and inflamed — but losing weight can help.
A 2018 study examined obese adults with arthritis pain in their knees. Researchers found that losing 10% to 20% of body weight resulted in less pain and improved joint function than losing just 5% of body weight, which did not show any significant joint pain benefits.
The reason likely has to do with how quickly joints wear down when under additional stress from excess weight. “As the smooth surface at the ends of bones, or cartilage, becomes damaged and worn, you feel pain and stiffness in the joint,” Pulsalkar says.
8. Boosts energy
Because weight loss can improve sleep, you might also feel more energized during the day, Pulsalkar says. Excess weight also means your body has to work harder to move. Therefore, shedding some pounds means you use less energy to move. It also improves respiratory function, which can also make you feel more energized.
9. Higher sex drive
While research on the correlation between excess weight and sex drive is still emerging, weight gain has been shown to increase sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG) levels in your blood. This can lower free testosterone levels and decrease your libido, Pulsalkar says.
10. Reduced risk of certain cancers
According to the American Cancer Society, excess body weight is thought to be the cause of about 11% of cancers in women and about 5% of cancers in men. Obesity increases your risk of developing several different cancers, including:
- Endometrial cancer
- Breast cancer (in women past menopause)
- Kidney cancer
- Liver cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
The exact link between excess weight and cancer is still unknown, but researchers believe inflammation due to visceral fat — the fat surrounding vital organs — is to blame. Losing weight could lower your risk of developing these cancers.
Some people may need to lose significantly more weight to experience some of these benefits, Ali says. But for the most part, losing as little as 5% of your body weight can lead to many health benefits, like improved heart health and decreased risk of diabetes. But, before starting any weight loss program, it’s important to talk with your doctor about the right plan and goals for you.