Older woman standing outside wearing a winter coat smiling.

Following through on your weight loss resolution can do more than help you look good

Losing weight is a common New Year’s resolution. Who doesn’t want to fit in to their favorite old pants they can’t bring themselves to throw out, or feel more confident in a swimsuit? Looking great can help you feel great.

And it’s no secret that losing weight is good for your heart health.

If you need a little extra motivation to get you on the right track, it might help to know that losing weight has neurological benefits, too. It can help reduce your risk of stroke, improve your sleep and improve your spine health, which reduces back pain.

Decrease your risk of stroke

A healthy diet and plenty of physical activity are keys to losing weight. They’re also keys to reducing your stroke risk.

Being overweight places you at a higher risk of developing diabetes, which increases your risk of a stroke, according to the American Stroke Association. A poor diet, especially one that is high in sodium, can lead to extra weight and contribute to high blood pressure, which also increases your risk of stroke.

“Work with your physician to create a strategy that works for you,” said Arun Talkad, MD, of OSF HealthCare Illinois Neurological Institute. “Develop a plan to eat healthier and making your life more active. It really is one of the best things you can do to prevent a stroke.”

Try to be active for at least 30 minutes every day and set reasonable goals. You want to create a lifestyle you can stick with. After all, losing just five pounds can make a big difference in your health. Take this quick stroke risk assessment to see what your stroke risk is.

Better sleep equals better rest equals better you

Asian-American man sleeping in a bed.

Poor sleep and sleep deprivation can have a broad range of effects on your health and your quality of life.

“When you don’t sleep well, you’re more fatigued during the day and you don’t function at your best,” said Sarah Zallek, MD, a sleep specialist at OSF INI. “Plus, a lack of sleep increases your risk for a broad range of medical issues.”

Memory issues, weakened immunity against viruses and bacteria, weight gain, high blood pressure and an increased risk for diabetes – these are all possible side effects of sleep deprivation, and being overweight or obese can contribute to a lack of sleep.

Obstructive sleep apnea is the repeated collapse of the airway during sleep. Every time the airway collapses, you wake up. This can make you tired in the daytime, raise your blood pressure, increase the risk of heart attack and stroke and even lead to weight gain. Just as weight gain can make apnea worse, weight loss almost always helps and sometimes cures it.

Plus, exercising to help keep your weight down can have the added benefit of improving your sleep quality. Studies have shown that people who exercise regularly sleep better than those who don’t.

Help keep back pain at bay

Studies have shown that overweight and obese people are more likely to experience back pain, especially lower back pain.

“Decreasing your weight helps reduce the pressure bending your spine forward and wearing down the discs between your vertebrae,” said Daniel Fassett, MD, a spine specialist at OSF INI.

Your discs prevent your vertebrae from grinding against each other. When they degenerate from wear, they can press on your spinal cord and cause pain, which generally requires surgery to fix.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter WHY you choose a healthier lifestyle. It just matters that you take action, and that you do it intelligently. So, be sure to consult with your physician before embarking on a weight loss journey.

Last Updated: April 18, 2022

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About Author: Ken Harris

Ken Harris is the proudest father and was a writing coordinator for the Marketing & Communications division of OSF HealthCare.

He has a bachelor's in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked as a daily newspaper reporter for four years before leaving the field and eventually finding his way to OSF HealthCare.

In his free time, Ken likes reading, fly fishing, hanging out with his dog and generally pestering his lovely, patient wife.

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Categories: Brain & Spine, Diet & Exercise