A vital component in maintaining your overall good health and general well-being is the reduction in your body of excess fat. Not only does this make you look and feel pretty good, but it can also massively reduce your risk of life-threatening illnesses.
Current studies put the figures in the US of overweight and obesity at record levels. As much as 70% in some areas of the population is overweight, with 20% of the population as a whole falling into the category of obese.
Excess body fat is a major factor in serious physical ailments such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Recent counts put the figures for these life-threatening illnesses at an all-time high within the US – as many as three out of four Americans die of heart disease or cancer every year.
According to figures recently published by the national Health and Nutrition Group, 80% of those deaths are caused by life-style factors such as inadequate diets or lack of exercise.
To give you an example of some of the reasons behind this, think of the energy involved just to pump the blood around the body of someone who is suffering from obesity. The heart has to work a lot harder – over time the heart grows larger to accommodate the extra workload, which in turn leads to high blood pressure and an erratic pulse.
As the pressure on the heart grows, so does the amount of cholesterol in the arteries. The cholesterol builds up on the inside of the arteries, making them narrower and narrower. It’s a bit like the pipes under your sink in the kitchen.
If you continue to pour fats down the sink, over a number of years the fat builds up on the inside of the pipes, making them narrower and narrower. Eventually they will close altogether. This is the most common form of heart attack.
Before this happens, the blood pressure needs to rise to get through the narrower bore, and this in itself poses major problems – including strokes and kidney failure.
Recent studies have also shown up a strong correlation between the amount of fat present in a person’s body and the presence of carcinogens (chemicals that cause cancer). In women this often manifests itself as breast or cervical cancer. In men, the danger comes from colon or prostate cancer.
The hormone insulin is produced in the body by the pancreas – and it serves to break down some of the sugar present in our blood. We naturally get sugar from our foods, and the more sugar we eat, the more insulin needs to be produced. Any excess blood sugar is then stored in the liver and other vital organs.
When those organs become saturated with sugar, when they cannot store any more, they take in less blood. The pancreas then produces more and more insulin to try and cope with this, and the system becomes overwhelmed. This is the main cause of diabetes, as well as other illnesses such as kidney failure, blindness, sexual dysfunction and more.
There is good news, however. By reducing your body fat you can drastically reduce your risk of disease. A study from the University of Pittsburgh in 2001 examined 159 people as they embarked on weight loss programs. Of those people who were able to lose between 10-15 per cent of their body weight and keep it off for 18 months, their cholesterol levels (and therefore risk of heart disease) had significantly reduced.
The study concluded, in fact, that a reduction in your body fat is actually a more effective way of reducing the risks than medication.
It may well be the case that there is a history within your family of heart disease and other associated illnesses. If this is true for you, then you may be interested to know that an active lifestyle that includes regular physical activity, a low-fat diet and stress reduction can even reverse the heart disease process.
Most of us will gain weight at some point in our lives. In fact, recent figures show that the average American actually increases his/her body weight by at least one pound per year after the age of 25. That means that by the time you have reached 50, you will have gained, on average, 25 pounds of fat.
To make this worse, as we grow older, our metabolism naturally slows, making it even harder to shift that weight. A consequence of an inactive lifestyle is that as you gain this weight and slow down your metabolism you are also losing muscle weight at the same time.
The sad fact is that the majority of Americans do not exercise in any significant way. According to The President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, as little as 1 in 5 of Americans exercise for the recommended minimum of 20 minutes three days a week.
It does not have to all doom and gloom, however. In 90% of overweight patients, transferring to a moderate weight-loss program and making changes to their diet (not starving themselves), can radically improve their chances of avoiding the significant health risks we have illustrated above.
Making those changes to a lifestyle that has been unhealthy for a number of years is the hardest part. Anything that involves changing our routine is often daunting. But the stark reality of the figures does not lie – by not making those changes and continuing as you are you are seriously endangering your life.
The answer is not to make wholesale changes immediately, but make small changes over a period of months or even years, and the benefits will be very apparent.