From the Heart and Stroke Foundation

Losing weight can improve your health in many ways. But what most people don't realize is that you don't have to lose that much to derive immediate health benefits. In fact, just losing 10% of your body weight, for example, can give you more energy and help you sleep better. It can also reduce your risks for heart disease and stroke by lowering your blood pressure and cholesterol.

The best way to go about losing weight is to do eat fewer unhealthy foods, watch portion sizes, and do more physical activity. For example, if you walk briskly for 30 minutes, you can burn about 150 calories. And if you skip your daily apple fritter, you can cut out 350 calories. Total calories saved in one day: a whopping 500! If one pound is equal to 3,500 calories, you could potentially lose a pound in one week. See how it works?

Physical activity can help you control your weight by using excess calories that would otherwise be stored as fat. Balancing the calories you eat with the calories you use through physical activity will help you reach and maintain a healthy weight. Physical activity includes walking, running, basketball, or other sports as well as yard work or walking the dog. If you have been inactive for a while, start slowly and work up to 30 minutes a day at a pace that is comfortable for you. If you are unable to be active for 30 minutes at a time, accumulate activity over the course of the day in 10- to 15-minute bursts.

Strength training will also help you burn extra calories and build strong muscles, bones, and joints. Experts recommend strength training two to three days each week, with one full day of rest between activities to allow your muscles to recover. If you are new to strength training, or physical activity in general, consider hiring a certified personal trainer who can plan an individualized program to help you work out safely and effectively.

Now that you are ready to get your body moving, consider what you're eating. Make small changes and make smarter food choices. Be careful not to increase the amount of calories you eat in a day. If you are new to physical activity, fight the urge to eat more food after being active. Think ahead. Prepare a small snack for after your activity session. Great snack choices include: apples, banana, yogurt, almonds or whole-grain crackers with peanut butter.

Other strategies that can help is keeping a food and physical activity diary. Mark down how much time you're active. This will help you set a habit. By writing down what you eat throughout the day, you'll become aware of your food choices and it can help you be more thoughtful about your food choices and portions. After three days of tracking your food intake, take a look at what small changes you can make to help you cut unnecessary calories from your day. For example, if you notice that you are drinking three cups of coffee with 2 tablespoons of cream a day (equal to 120 calories), try switching to 1% or 2% milk, saving 87 calories a day. Even better, try weaning yourself off cream altogether and drink your coffee black, saving 120 calories a day. Other unhealthy foods that add extra, unnecessary calories every day may include doughnuts, potato chips, sugary pop, or that chocolate bar you have at 3:00 p.m. to keep you awake! (Taking a 5-minute walk can wake you up just as well.)

Using that one-two punch combo of being more active and avoiding unhealthy foods, here's how to lose 5, 10 or 15 pounds. Remember: healthy weight loss is considered 1 to 2 pounds a week.

Lose 5 – in a month

Either you're just above your healthy weight goal, or you just want to try to start off small, whatever your challenge, here's one way to go about it:

  1. Commit to a 30 minutes of activity every day. Walking is easiest to incorporate.
  2. Cut out one or two unhealthy food you eat every day for the whole month (cream in your coffee? sugary pop? fast-food meals?). Watch food portions at meals. (See information on serving sizes in the resources below.)

Lose 10 - in two months

So you're feeling a little braver about tackling your extra weight. This is a good thing. Try this out:

  1. Commit to 45 minutes of activity every day, either walking, biking or playing tennis.
  2. Cut out three to four unhealthy foods you eat every day for two months (potato chips? candy bars?). Watch food portions at meals. (See information on serving sizes in the resources below.)
  3. Add strength training by lifting 5, 10 or 15 lb weights twice a week. Include two sets of 12 repetitions.

Lose 15 - in three months

Now you're serious about losing those pounds that you may have been carrying for awhile. Congratulations. Here's how to make the pounds melt away:

  1. Commit to 30 minutes of physical activity twice a day, be it walking, basketball or swimming. Add more activity options to boost your weight loss.
  2. Cut out three unhealthy foods you eat every day for three months (gummy bears? cookies?). Watch food portions at meals. (See information on serving sizes in the resources below.)
  3. Add strength training by lifting 5, 10 or 15 lb weights three times a week. Include three sets of 12 repetitions.
  4. Add flexibility and stretching exercises (yoga? tai chi?) to avoid injuries.

Helpful tips

  1. Weigh yourself once a week, at the same time, to keep tabs on your progress.
  2. If you fall off the wagon, get right back on. Don't waste your efforts. A bad day is just a bad day.
  3. As clothes become too big, remove them from your wardrobe and give them to charity.
  4. Drink plenty of liquids, about 6 to 8 glasses a day
  5. .
  6. Try our exclusive, heart-healthy recipes.

Remember: to keep the weight off, you'll have to continue being physically active and watching your calories.

Need some help getting started? Want to learn how to achieve and maintain weight loss for life? Sign up for the MY Heart&Stroke Healthy Weight Action Plan at heartandstroke.ca/hwplan

Learn about Canada's Food Guide's serving sizes.

Before starting any activity program, be sure to talk to your doctor or other healthcare professional.

This physical activity column was written by a certified personal trainer and fitness instructor and reviewed by Foundation experts.

Posted September 2009.

Heart and Stroke Foundation

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