Even Temporary Weight Loss Can Have Heart Benefits

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Adults who lose weight may be able to reap long-term cardiovascular health benefits, even if they gain the weight back, according to a new study.

In the study, researchers found that the less time adults carried around extra body fat, the less likely they were to experience cardiovascular health-related issues, such as high blood pressure or an increased risk of diabetes later in life.

The results also showed that losing a significant amount of weight — for example, going from being obese to overweight, or from being overweight to normal weight — at any point in adulthood may reduce cardiovascular health risks, even if a person regains the weight.

In the study, the researchers followed 1,273 British men and women for up to 64 years. The data came from the U.K. Medical Research Council National Survey of Health and Development (NSHD). At several points in the participants' lives — including childhood and ages 36, 43, 53 and 60 to 64 — the researchers classified the people as normal weight, overweight or obese. During the course of the study, the researchers also examined the participants' blood pressure, took blood samples from them and asked them if they smoked.

"Our study is unique because it followed individuals for such a long time — more than 60 years — and allowed us to assess the effect of modest, real-life changes" in body fat, study author John Deanfield, of University College London in the United Kingdom, said in a statement. [Lose Weight Smartly: 7 Little-Known Tricks That Shave Pounds]

"Our findings suggest that losing weight at any age can result in long-term cardiovascular health benefits, and support public health strategies and lifestyle modifications that help individuals who are overweight or obese to lose weight at all ages," Deanfield said.

However, other experts said the study results show how important it is to maintain a healthy weight throughout a person's life, rather than losing weight temporarily.

"Although it is encouraging that even transitory weight loss during adulthood has cardiovascular benefits, only 2 percent of participants in the present study had a sustained reduction in BMI [body mass index] category in adulthood, underscoring the importance of weight maintenance and prevention of weight gain as priorities for public health programming and policy," Elizabeth Cespedes and Frank Hu, of the Harvard School of Public Health, wrote in a commentary.

Exercise and the right diet are still the best means to achieve and maintain a healthy BMI, Cespedes and Hu wrote.

Previous studies on temporary weight loss and its potential health benefits have yielded mixed results. Some research has suggested that losing weight intentionally and then regaining it was associated with "slight mortality benefits," Cespedes and Hu wrote. However, other studies have shown that weight loss in middle and later adulthood may, in fact, increase mortality risk or not affect it at all, they said.

The study was published Monday (May 20) in the journal The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology.

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Staff Writer