7 serious reasons to lose weight

Most Americans don’t think carrying extra pounds is a health risk. But the harsh reality is that being obese can lop as many as 20 years off your life.

Fortunately, losing even a small amount of weight can reduce and sometimes reverse the risks. Need inspiration to slim down? These reasons should do the trick.

Reason 1: Your cancer risk may drop

Overweight women have four times the endometrial cancer risk, probably for the same reason they’re at increased risk for breast cancer: Body fat produces estrogen, a hormone linked to both diseases, says a recent study at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Likewise, University of Minnesota researchers found that leptin, a hormone associated with weight gain, enhanced the proliferation of both normal and cancerous breast cells.

Make one change: Talk with your doctor about birth-control pills. Women who take a pill containing both estrogen and progestin have a 50 percent lower risk of developing endometrial cancer.

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Reason 2: You stay sharp

Obese people, particularly those with large bellies at midlife, are 260% more likely to develop dementia. And the bigger the belly the greater the risk, perhaps because of hormones or inflammatory factors produced by the abdominal fat itself.

Make one change: Start eating nonfat or low-fat yogurt for breakfast. The calcium encourages your body to burn rather than store abdominal fat.

Did you know? Researchers from Kaiser Permanente found that people with the fattest arms at ages 40 to 45 were 59 percent more likely to have dementia later in life.

Reason 3: You could recover faster from cancer

Obese women have a higher risk of complications from breast reconstruction after mastectomy. They also appear to be less likely than normal-weight women to get the full benefit of pre-surgery chemotherapy, possibly because doctors—worried about toxicity—tend to give overweight women smaller doses than they really need of whatever medication they are taking.

Make one change: Check with your pharmacist and doctor to be sure you’re getting adequate doses of the drugs you need for any illness or condition.

Reason 4: Your heart is safer

The bigger you are the more likely you are to suffer a heart attack earlier in life—12 years sooner for the most obese, a study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology says. And overweight people are more likely to have diabetes and high cholesterol.

Make one change: Eat heart-healthy fare like dark leafy greens and unsalted nuts.

Reason 5: You feel less depressed

There’s an association between obesity and depression, according to a recent study of 4,600 women between the ages of 40 and 65. About 6.5 percent of the women who had a normal body mass index (BMI) were depressed, whereas the disorder afflicted more than 25 percent of those with BMIs higher than 35.

In another study, researchers found a 25 percent increase in the risk of developing mood disorders among the obese. The stigma of being overweight plus limited physical activity could contribute to depression, researchers say.

Make one change: Seek out a therapist either through your employer (which might offer free on-site counseling) or a mental health clinic or hospital (some charge based on what you can pay).

Reason 6: Your workouts are easier and more fun

Obese women have more aches and pains than normal-weight women, and they worry about injury or just feel too overweight to work out. And many say they are too self-conscious to go to a gym.

Make one change: Talk to your doctor about beginning an exercise program. Or pop in a DVD of an activity you think you’d enjoy. Go slow to build strength and fitness gradually.

Reason 7: You can enjoy better medical care

Some doctors associate obesity with unpleasant character traits including hostility, dishonesty and poor hygiene, research has shown. In fact, in a survey of nearly 2,500 overweight and obese women, 69 percent said they had experienced bias during a doctor visit. The unfortunate result is that doctors spend less time with overweight patients and even avoid doing preventive exams and screenings, a Yale University Rudd Center report concluded.

Make one change: Find a doctor who works with obese and overweight patients. Have a frank conversation with your current (or new) doctor about the possible causes of your weight problem.

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