Dropping pounds may mean lower cholesterol and blood pressure, reduced risk for chronic diseases, and skyrocketing self-confidence. But you know all that. What you might not realize is that a smaller waistline can also help you sleep better, improve your fertility, and help you focus. Fuel your get-fit motivation with these 10 lesser-known weight loss benefits.
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Losing weight can help keep your pearly whites good as new. Obese people with gum disease who underwent weight loss surgery in addition to receiving periodontal treatment experienced less swelling, redness, and bleeding compared to those who had gum disease treatment alone, according to a study performed at Case Western Reserve University. Researchers believe that since gum disease is a form of inflammation, and inflammation is fueled by fat cells, that less fat leads to a healthier smile.
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If you fall off track every time you start an eating or exercise plan, the bulge that you're battling could be contributing to your lack of focus. A review of studies on cognitive function and obesity shows that obese people tend to perform poorer on executive functions, like meeting goals, making decisions, and planning ahead, compared to those at a normal weight. (Related: Stay organized with our Fit Tracker tool) The good news: slimming down can sharpen the mind. Twelve weeks after significant weight loss, participants in a Kent State University study improved their memory and concentration.
"Obesity can make you overthink things that people who have never struggled with weight don't worry about on a daily basis," says Domenica Rubino, MD, director of the Washington Center for Weight Management and Research in Arlington, VA. You may worry whether the cape the hairdresser wraps around you will dig into your neck, or how out of breath you'll be if you don't secure a good parking spot outside the office. When Rubino's patients lose weight, their everyday activities require a lot less thought. Mobility and endurance go way up--and so does quality of life.
With fewer worries about weight, you gain freedom to do things on the fly, says Rubino. Instead of fearing that you won't fit through a turnstile or into the seats at a stadium, you can head to a ball game worry-free, for example. The same goes for squeezing into airplane seats or being able to ride a rollercoaster on your family trip to the amusement park.
You're bound to feel sexier with a tighter tummy and trimmer thighs, but it doesn't take dramatic weight loss to help pump up the passion with your partner. Shedding 10% of your body weight is enough to boost sexual satisfaction levels significantly, according to researchers at Duke University Medical Center. The same scientists found that obese people were 25% more likely to report dissatisfaction with their sex lives.
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If starting a family is in your future, a healthier body weight can help you conceive. "Women who are obese can have problems with fertility because fatty tissue bleeds estrogen, and too much estrogen throws off the estrogen-progesterone balance," explains Lawrence Cheskin, MD, director of the Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center. (Learn more about how hormones and weight are related) After weight loss, many women are able to end fertility treatments and become pregnant, he adds. Although the effect is less dramatic among men, slimming down may improve sperm count and lessen symptoms of erectile dysfunction, he says.
Sleep apnea, a condition that causes people to stop breathing for short periods throughout the night, has been linked to obesity, as extra fat around the neck can obstruct airways when you snooze. Unsurprisingly, losing weight helps you breathe better, and thus sleep more soundly. In fact, when obese adults who had been diagnosed with sleep apnea and type 2 diabetes followed a yearlong diet and exercise regimen, they lost an average of 24 pounds, experienced fewer pauses in breathing, and 14% had complete remission of their sleep apnea, according to research published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
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A trimmer tummy may help shield you from the sniffles. Following weight loss, people often experience fewer colds and become less susceptible to infection, says Cheskin. Why? Obesity overstimulates the immune system and weakens one's defenses against bacterial and viral infections. In short, the body attacks fat cells as if they were harmful invaders and after awhile, you end up with overabundance of immune cells floating around in your system--even when you're not ill. (Learn more about how obesity can make you sick)
With fewer pounds to haul around, you'll put less stress on your joints, which can ease everyday pain, says Cheskin. Also, with fewer fat cells firing up the body's inflammatory response, weight loss can also help alleviate arthritis symptoms, he adds. This happens faster than people expect, notes Rubino, explaining that patients often report less foot and knee pain after losing only 10 pounds.
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A leaky bladder is an embarrassing side effect of obesity for some women, many of whom brush it off as a sign of getting older, says Rubino. Carrying around excess weight in the midsection puts pressure on the bladder and weakens the muscles around it, making it more likely that urine will sneak out when you laugh, sneeze or cough. But research shows that slimming down--even just a little--can help reverse the problem. In a Brown University study, women who lost between 5 and 10% body weight significantly reduced their number of urinary incontinence episodes.