Aim for a Healthy Weight - Facts About Healthy Weight
Why Is a Healthy Weight Important?
Being overweight or obese increases your risk for many diseases and
conditions. The more you weigh, the more likely you are to suffer from heart
disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, gallbladder disease, sleep apnea, and
certain cancers. On the other hand, a healthy weight has many benefits: It
helps you to lower your risk for developing these problems, helps you to feel
good about yourself, and gives you more energy to enjoy life.
What Is Your Risk for Weight-Related Diseases?
Body Mass Index (BMI)
Your BMI accurately estimates your total body fat. And, the amount of
fat that you carry is a good indicator of your risk for a variety of
There are two ways to check your BMI:
- Use the BMI chart. First, find your height in the
left-hand column. Then, follow it over until you find your weight. The number
on the top of that column is your BMI.
- Use the BMI calculator on the National Heart, Lung, and Blood
Institute's (NHLBI's) Web site: http://www.nhlbisupport.com/bmi/
Once you know your BMI, check Box 1 to see what the
number means. Although BMI can be used for most men and women, it does have
- It may overestimate body fat in athletes and others who have
a muscular build.
- It may underestimate body fat in older persons and others
who have lost muscle.
Waist Circumference Measurement
Your waist circumference is also an important measurement to help you
figure out your overall health risks. If most of your fat is around your waist,
then you are more at risk for heart disease and diabetes. This risk increases
with a waist measurement that is:
- Greater than 35 inches for women
- Greater than 40 inches for men
Other Risk Factors for Heart Disease
If you have other risk factors for heart disease (shown
in Box 2) and are overweight or obese, then you will be at greater risk for
health problems. Your doctor will check your BMI, waist circumference, and
other risk factors for heart disease:
- If you are overweight (BMI 2529.9), do not have a high waist
circumference, and have less than two risk factors, then its important
that you not gain any more weight.
- If you are overweight (BMI 2529.9) or have a high waist
circumference and have two or more risk factors, then it is important for you to lose weight.
- If you are obese (BMI 30), then it is important for you to lose weight.
Even a small weight loss (just 510 percent of your current weight)
will help to lower your risk of developing weight-related diseases.
How To Lose Weight and Maintain It
Changing the way you approach weight loss can help you be more
successful at losing it. Most people who try to lose weight focus on one thing:
weight loss. However if you set goals, begin to eat healthy foods, become more
physically active, and learn how to change behaviors, then you may be more
successful at losing weight. Over time, these changes will become routine and
part of your everyday life.
Weight Loss Goals
Setting the right goals is an important first step to losing and
- Losing just 510 percent of your current weight over 6 months
will lower your risk for heart disease and other conditions.
- Losing 12 pounds per week is a reasonable and safe weight loss.
Losing weight at this rate will help you to keep off the weight. And it will
give you the time to make new healthy lifestyle changes.
- Maintaining a modest weight loss over a longer period of time is
better than losing a lot of weight and regaining it. You can think about
additional weight loss after you've lost 10 percent of your current body weight
and have kept it off for 6 months.
Keeping a Balance
Maintaining a healthy weight calls for keeping a balance . . . a balance
of energy. You must balance the calories or energy that you get from food and
beverages with the calories that you use to keep your body going and to be
- The same amount of energy IN and OUT over time = weight stays the
- More energy IN than OUT over time = weight gain
- More energy OUT than IN over time = weight loss
Your energy IN and OUT doesn't have to balance exactly every day:
Balancing energy over time will help you to maintain a healthy weight in the
A Healthy Eating Plan
A healthy eating plan gives your body the nutrients it needs every day
and helps you to stay within your daily calorie level. This eating plan will
also lower your risk for heart disease and such other conditions as high blood
pressure and high blood cholesterol levels.
A healthy eating plan:
- Emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat
milk and milk products
- Includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts
- Is low in saturated fats, trans fat, cholesterol, salt
(sodium), and added sugars
- Controls portion sizes
Cutting back on calories is part of a healthy eating plan to lose
weight. Choose foods that are lower in fats, especially saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, and added sugars. Also, pay attention to
To lose 1–2 pounds a week, daily intake should be reduced by 500
to 1,000 calories. In general:
- Eating plans that contain 1,0001,200 calories each day will
help most women to lose weight safely.
- Eating plans that contain 1,2001,600 calories each day are
suitable for men and may also be appropriate for women who weigh 165 pounds or
more or who exercise regularly.
If you eat 1,600 calories a day but do not lose weight, then you may
want to cut back to 1,200 calories. If you are hungry on either diet, then you
may want to boost your calories by 100 to 200 per day. Very low calorie diets
of less than 800 calories per day should not be used unless you are being
monitored by your doctor.
Staying physically active and eating fewer calories will help you lose
weight and keep the weight off over time. Plus, physical activity has many
- Lowers the risk of heart disease; diabetes; and cancers such as
breast, uterus, and colon
- Strengthens your lungs and helps them to work more efficiently
- Strengthens your muscles and keeps your joints in good condition
- May slow bone loss
- Gives you more energy
- Helps you to relax and cope better with stress
- Builds confidence
- Allows you to fall asleep more quickly and sleep more soundly
- Provides an enjoyable way to share time with friends and family
How much physical activity should you aim for?
- For overall health and to reduce the risk of disease, aim for at
least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week.
- To help manage body weight and prevent gradual weight gain, aim for
60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity most days of the
- To maintain weight loss, aim for at least 60–90 minutes of
daily moderate physical activity.
You can break up the amount of time that you do physical activity, such
as 15 minutes at a time. If you haven't been physically active for some time,
then don't let that stop you. Start slowly and gradually increase your
activity. For example, start walking for 10–15 minutes three times a
week, then gradually build up to the recommended amount with brisk walking.
Other Weight Loss Options
Weight loss drugs and weight loss surgery may be options for some people
who are at high risk from overweight or obesity or who have been unsuccessful
at making lifestyle changes. If you think that you may benefit from weight loss
drugs or surgery, then talk to your doctor.
Tips to Weight Loss Success
Maintaining long-term weight loss can be difficult. Three keys to
success are setting realistic goals, following a healthy diet, and aiming for
60–90 minutes of physical activity most days of the week.
Other tips for weight loss success:
- Set specific, realistic goals that are forgiving (less than perfect).
To start, try walking 30 minutes, 3 days a week.
- Ask for encouragement from your health care provider(s) via telephone
or e-mail; friends and family can help. You can also join a support group.
- Keep a record of your food intake and the amount of physical activity
that you do. This is an easy way to track how you are doing. A record can also
inspire you. For example, when it shows that you've been more active, you'll be
encouraged to keep it up.
- Change your surroundings to avoid overeating. For example, don't eat
while watching television. Plan to meet a friend in a nonfood setting.
- Reward your success but not with food. Instead, choose rewards that
you'll enjoy, such as a movie, music CD, an afternoon off from work, a massage,
or personal time.
You can feel healthier by doing any of the following
activities. For added fun, ask friends or family to join you.
- Walk or ride a bike in your neighborhood.
- Join a walking club at a mall or at work.
- Play golf at a local club.
- Join a dance or yoga class.
- Work in your garden.
- Use local athletic facilities.
- Join a hiking or biking club.
- Join a softball team or play other sports with coworkers, friends,
Portion Distortion: How To Choose Sensible Servings
It's very easy to "eat with your eyes" and misjudge what equals a
serving—piling on unwanted pounds. This is especially true when you eat
out, because restaurant portions are often super sized and enough for two or
more people to share.
To keep portion sizes sensible:
- When eating out, choose small portions, share an entrée with
a friend, or take some of the food home.
- Check a product's Nutrition Facts label to learn how much food is
considered a serving and how many calories, fat grams, and other nutrients are
in the item.
- Limit portion sizes of such high-calorie foods as cookies, cakes,
and other sweets; french fries; and oils.
- Use smaller plates. We eat most of what is on our plate, no matter
what the size. Smaller plates can mean smaller portions.
Body Mass Index
* Weight is measured with underwear but no shoes.
Box 1—What Does Your BMI
Normal weight: BMI = 18.5–24.9. Good for
you! Try not to gain weight.
Overweight: BMI = 25–29.9. Do not gain any
weight, especially if your waist circumference is high. You need to lose weight
if you have two or more risk factors for heart disease and are overweight or
have a high waist circumference.
Obese: BMI = 30 or greater. You need to lose
weight. Lose weight slowly—about ½ to 2 pounds a week. See your
doctor or a nutritionist if you need help.
Box 2—Risk Factors
Besides being overweight or obese, here are other risk factors to
- Cigarette smoking
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- High LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol)
- Low HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol)
- High triglycerides
- High blood glucose (sugar)
- Family history of premature heart disease
- Physical inactivity
To Learn More
Contact NHLBI for information on weight management and heart health:
NHLBI Health Information Center
P.O. Box 30105
Also, check out these Web sites and Web pages:
Aim for a Healthy Weight:
Includes publications and such interactive features as a Portion
Distortion quiz and BMI calculator
We Can!—Ways to Enhance Children's Activity and
Includes materials for parents to help prevent overweight and obesity in
Heart Healthy Recipes: