Maintaining a healthy weight means something different for everyone. At HealthAhead, we understand that a one-size-fits-all approach won't work for most people. So instead, we're launching a series of articles to help you understand your own body's needs and learn how to set realistic health goals.

There are many factors that affect your weight, including diet, metabolism, and fitness level. Return regularly to the portal to learn details about how you can manage these factors, and start gaining more control over your weight. Let's begin with an overview to help you start thinking about weight differently:

Diet

Almost everything you hear about losing weight focuses on the importance of diet. And you've probably heard repeatedly that the best way to lose weight is to burn more calories than you take in. Although that may be true, your gender, age, height, and weight--as well as your activity level--all influence your caloric needs.

Since these factors will differ for each person, it's important to take a more personalized approach to diet and weight loss. The American Heart Association (AHA) offers a free online tool called the Fats and Sodium Explorer, which provides recommendations about your own specific daily calorie needs, as well as personalized limits you should keep in mind for fats and sodium.

Metabolism

You may have heard a lot about your metabolism and its role in weight management. However, you may be surprised to learn that, according to the Mayo Clinic, a slow metabolism is rarely responsible for weight gain. Metabolism does play a role in determining your body's caloric needs, but what you eat and drink, as well as your activity level, are the most important factors in your weight.

The Mayo Clinic notes that some people are tempted to blame their metabolism when they have difficulty losing weight, or seem prone to gaining weight. But metabolism actually tends to provide balance to meet each person's individual needs, depending on gender, body size, and body composition (the amount of muscle you have versus fat). Age is also an important factor. As you age, fat accounts for more of your weight, and muscle for less. In turn, this slows your body's process of calorie burning.

Fitness Level

When you're fitter, you can perform physical activities with greater ease, allowing you to burn more calories. Those with a low fitness level may have a tougher time meeting their weight loss goals. All adults should aim to meet the AHA's recommended goal of 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day, five days a week.

To meet specific fitness goals, and lose or maintain weight, you may need to increase the amount of time you exercise. You may also need to pay attention to the intensity of your workout. Walking is a wonderful form of exercise to help you get started. The AHA reports that people have greater success sticking to walking programs than other forms of exercise.

After you've started walking your way to better health, you might try adding a strength-training component to your exercise regimen. Lifting weights, and other forms of strengthening exercises, can help you build muscle mass, which may help you burn more calories in the long run.

HealthAhead Hint: Your Total Package

Now that you know a bit more about the factors that influence your weight, are you ready to start setting some simple goals? Remember that becoming healthier isn't a process that happens over night. Rather than looking for a quick-fix solution, consider if you might be happier choosing a few small goals. The number on your bathroom scale might not change right away, but you may start to feel a little better, and find it easier to make healthy choices. In future articles, we'll guide you in how to set realistic health goals that correspond with your own body and its needs.