Losing weight is a challenge. But not losing those extra pounds you are carrying around can have a severe negative long-term impact on your joints and musculoskeletal system.
Excess weight and obesity are linked to heart disease, stroke, some cancers, diabetes, high blood pressure, gallbladder disease, and osteoarthritis. Unhealthy weight stresses almost every organ in the body, so it is no surprise that it also increases the risk for back pain, joint pain, and muscle strain. And it also increases the risk of severe illness from COVID-19.
This issue is widespread. According to the CDC, more than 73% of all U.S. adults over the age of 20 are overweight or obese. This leads to back, neck, and joint issues that are significantly impacting the quality of their lives.
What impacts are we talking about?
Neck and Back Pain
If your weight slips into an unhealthy range, your chance of degenerative disc disease increases by 30 to 79 percent.
Every extra pound pulls your pelvis forward, adding strain to back muscles and ligaments. Discs adjust for that excess weight, and they can become herniated in the process of doing so. In turn, this damage can compress the spaces between the bones in the spine, causing pinched nerves and piriformis syndrome, where muscle spasms cause pain and sciatic nerve irritation.
If you have arthritis, extra weight can aggravate this condition and trigger the onset of osteoarthritis. Excess body fat also stimulates the production of chemicals that contribute to joint damage.
Are you aware that the stress on your knees is 1.5 times your body weight when you walk on a flat surface? So, if you weigh 160 pounds, your knees experience stress that feels more like 240 pounds. When you are walking up an incline, your knees’ stress increases to 3 to 4 times your weight. So the knees of a 160-pound person can feel as much as 640 pounds of pressure.
If you are 20 pounds overweight, you are taxing your knees with up to 80 pounds of extra stress and strain. This additional weight on your knee may lead to pain or an injury. And there are similar excess weight impacts on your other joints, particularly with your spine and hips.
Studies have shown that losing just 10 percent of our body weight can make a significant difference. Following a diet and exercise program can reduce pain, improve joint function and lead to less arthritic inflammation.
Your Goal Weight Based on the Body Mass Index
How much should you weigh? The most common tool to evaluate proper weight is the body mass index (BMI). It is a number calculated from an individual’s height and weight. In most people, it represents a relative measure of body fat, although in some cases it may be inaccurate. It tends to overestimate body fat in individuals who are more muscular than the norm.
The BMI that you should target for yourself should be determined in a conversation with your healthcare provider.
BMI is classified as follows:
- BMI under 18.5 is underweight.
- BMI 18.5 to 24.9 is typically healthy weight.
- BMI 25.0 to 29.9 may indicate overweight status.
- BMI 30.0 to 39.9 may indicate obesity.
You can calculate your BMI by referring to the chart below, or using the Body Mass Calculator provided by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, found at the link HERE.
Set Diet and Exercise Goals that Will Work for You
Some of us love exercise, others of us hate it. Regardless of your own preferences, the bottom line is that exercise and physical activity are good for you. Study after study show that individuals who exercise regularly not only live longer, they live better.
If you can’t do a vigorous exercise program, just doing everyday physical activities can provide positive impact. Gardening, walking the dog, or taking the stairs instead of an elevator are a good start. And it will help you stave off some diseases and disabilities that often occur with aging.
Studies now even suggest that people who begin exercise training in later life, such as in their 60s and 70s, can build their physical strength and also experience improved heart function.
Controlling your weight can be a more complex problem. Food selection can both have an impact on packing on pounds, as well as how you age. Don’t skip breakfast. Eat a balanced morning meal that includes protein, fat, and carbs that will give you the energy you need for your day.
It’s best to talk to your doctor before starting any diet to get their guidance. But after you do, consider eating small meals with a few snacks in between, or consider fasting. Eat until you are no longer hungry, but not until you’re full. Exercise daily, even if it is only in moderation. And be wary of eating when you are stressed or starved for comfort – emotionally motivated eating can ruin any diet.
Excess weight and lack of exercise can lead to spinal disorders and neck, back, or joint problems. Main Line Spine is here to provide care for you when that happens – but we believe it is better that you try to avoid these issues if you can. Many cases that we see daily are the result of excess weight. By taking control of your weight, you’ll enjoy far fewer medical visits and a happier life.