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Even modest weight loss can have profound benefits for heart health. Getty Images
  • A new analysis from the American Heart Association showed that weight loss reduced certain risk factors of cardiovascular disease even if some weight was regained later.
  • The protective effects of weight loss appear to benefit heart health for several years.
  • People who participated in behavioral weight loss programs also saw improvements in blood pressure, cholesterol, and certain risk factors for type 2 diabetes.

The heart health benefits of losing weight remain even if you experience rebound weight regain.

These findings were part of a new research analysis on heart health and behavioral weight reduction programs published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, an American Heart Association journal. Funding for the research was provided by the British Heart Foundation and the National Institute for Health Research Oxford Biomedical Research Centre.

Behavioral weight loss efforts in the analysis included:

  • Diet and/or exercise interventions
  • Partial or total meal replacement
  • Intermittent fasting
  • Financial incentives based on weight loss

The average weight loss across 124 studies was between 2-5 kilograms (5-10 pounds). The rebound weight gain averaged less than a pound a year.

People who lost weight with behavioral programs also benefited from the following when compared with people who didn’t participate in a behavioral program or people who participated in a lower-intensity behavioral program:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Healthier cholesterol levels
  • Lower levels of a specific diabetes marker known as HbA1c

“Our findings should provide reassurance that weight loss programs are effective in controlling cardiovascular risk factors and very likely to reduce the incidence of cardiovascular disease,” said study co-senior author Susan A. Jebb, Ph.D., a professor of diet and population health at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom in the official press release.

The American Heart Association’s 2023 Statistical Update says being overweight or having obesity contributed to 2.4 million deaths worldwide in 2020.

Additional body weight increases someone’s risk for high cholesterol and high blood pressure, according to the American Heart Association. They say these factors heighten the risk of developing heart disease, as well as insulin resistance, which is a precursor to type 2 diabetes. Losing weight, then, is a method of improving health outcomes.

“Losing weight is a lot easier than keeping it off,” says Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RDN, a nutritionist and the author of “Skinny Liver.” She tells Healthline this is a common theme she’s seen in practice over the last 20 years.

“Therefore, the findings of this particular analysis are promising in that health benefits were seen long term,” she says.

Florence Comite, MD, founder of the Comite Center for Precision Medicine and Health tells Healthline the study offers good news for people who are overweight and obese because it further demonstrates the significant health benefits of losing even a modest amount of body weight through behavioral changes.

“It shows you have control, and it offers hope to people,” says Dr. Comite. “It shows people can live healthier through lifestyle changes, including food, exercise, and taking a proactive role in their healthcare,” she says. “And if they experience minimal to modest weight regain, which is common and, in this analysis, was quite modest, the benefits are worth the impact on an individual’s future health trajectory.”

Experts offer the following tips for individuals who have regained weight for any reason.

1. Accept that setbacks can happen

We all fall off the wagon, but not all jump back on. Kirkpatrick notes this as a critical difference between people who succeed in their weight loss goals and those who do not.

“The patients of mine that found success long-term still fell off the wagon from time to time, but they would recognize it and realize why and how it happened and get right back on track with their goals.”

Dr. Comite agrees, saying the first step here is accepting weight regain may happen and not getting discouraged.

2. Reconsider your methods of weight loss

“The way we lose weight may unfortunately increase the odds of gaining it back,” says Kirkpatrick. “Therefore, if weight loss regain is a common occurrence, it’s often a good idea to start by looking at the methods in which the weight was lost to begin with,” she suggests.

For example, Kirkpatrick says more extreme measures that eliminate entire food groups or a drastic reduction in calories may work in the short term but often fail over time.

“Since there is no one-size-fits-all approach, working with a professional, such as a registered dietitian, may help to find sustainable dietary patterns that don’t lead to deprivation or unhappiness,” says Kirkpatrick.

3. Add more physical activity

When it comes to weight loss maintenance, exercise is essential.

“Simply walking 30 minutes a day may help with keeping weight off,” says Kirkpatrick. She also recommends spending a few days a week focusing on resistance training to help with weight loss maintenance.

Dr. Comite adds that training with bodyweight exercises, lifting weights, or using exercise bands a few times a week, along with eating enough protein, can help you maintain your muscle and avoid fat infiltrating your muscle, a scenario called “skinny fat syndrome.”

4. Reduce alcohol consumption

Alcohol may be a hidden source of weight regain. Kirkpatrick says she sees this all the time with her patients over 45 years old. For example, her patients who give up alcohol, lose weight, and then begin with a few glasses at dinner again tend to start gaining weight again. “Going back to this habit can lead to an increased risk of weight regain,” she says.

Dr. Comite also recommends reducing or avoiding alcohol.

5. Realize you’re human

“Once you lose weight, you may fluctuate up and down throughout the weeks and years after your weight loss,” says Kirkpatrick. “Not every meal will be perfect, and since you are human, trying to find perfection in your diet is not often a reasonable goal,” she says.