You don’t need to mimic the contestants on The Biggest Loser to gain the benefits of dropping some kilos: losing as little as five per cent of your body weight may be enough to help your health, research from the Washington University School of Medicine suggests.
In the study, obese people who dropped just five per cent of their body weight improved several risk factors for type 2 diabetes, including their insulin sensitivity and the function of their insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells – both of which are important in controlling blood-sugar spikes.
The weight loss also helped their hearts, by lowering their systolic blood pressure, visceral fat in their abdomens and their triglycerides, or fat, in their blood.
It also reduced the fat in their liver by about 50 per cent, said study author Dr Samuel Klein. That’s important, since non-alcoholic fatty liver – a disease estimated to affect up to 25 per cent of men over 40 – can serve as a harbinger to serious health problems like high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.
Interestingly, the researchers did not find any change in markers of systemic inflammation in those who lost five per cent of their body weight.
This challenges the belief that weight loss improves heart and metabolic risk factors by reducing inflammatory compounds associated with fat tissue, Klein says.
The researchers aren’t yet sure what is responsible for the link. But weight loss was shown to reduce oxidative stress – a condition where toxic free radicals can damage cells – which may improve heart and metabolic health, says Klein.
How Much Weight Loss Should You Shoot For?
In the study, losing additional weight past the five per cent mark was shown to improve some health markers, like pancreatic beta cell function, even further. But dropping more than five per cent didn’t improve other markers, like insulin sensitivity in fat and liver tissue.
“This really shows that a five per cent weight loss is a very good target to shoot for, which is much easier to achieve than 10 per cent,” says Klein.
Plus, knowing you’ll reap the benefits by losing just a little bit of weight – think five kilos for a 100kg guy – can make you more likely to start and stick with a program.
“If you make your target more achievable, the chance of failure or the chance of becoming depressed over not being able to do it is less,” Klein says.
For some men, that five per cent mark may just be a starting point. The study didn’t look at other issues linked to obesity – such as joint pain, cancer and erectile dysfunction – and a greater weight loss may be needed to combat those. So talk to your doctor to come up with a sustainable plan that works best for your health.
Important note: because the study was done using obese participants, the researchers can’t be sure that the results will be the same for guys who are just overweight. Still, they’re likely to be similar, says Klein.