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A Healthy Weight for Life

Staying at or reaching a healthy weight is important for many reasons. Not only will you feel better about yourself and have more energy, but you'll also help to reduce your risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer.

The "secret" to maintaining a healthy weight is not found in any magic diet or weight loss system. In fact, it's no secret at all. You just need to take in about the same amount of calories that your body uses up. It's that simple, and it is called caloric balance.

A calorie is a unit of energy supplied by a food. To lose about two pounds in one week you need to cut out about 1,000 calories per day. Your other options are to burn off more calories by increasing the amount of exercise you do or through a combination of less food, more exercise. Think of this balancing act as a scale with calories "in" from food on one side and calories "out" from exercise on the other side.

Are you at a healthy weight?

Your healthy weight depends on your height, body build, sex, age and exercise level. One of the best ways to find your healthy weight is to check your body mass index (BMI). You can find links to a BMI chart and a BMI calculator at the CDC website in the "Assessing Your Weight" section.

Another reliable indicator of healthy weight is your waist circumference. Wrap a tape measure around your bare belly, just above your hip bones. Exhale and don't hold your belly in. If you are a man, your measurement should not be over 40 inches. For a woman that number is 35 inches.

Keeping your caloric scale in balance

Here are the basics for reaching and then maintaining a healthy weight:

  • Count calories. You need to read food labels and keep track of how many calories you are taking in. Once you know how many calories you tend to eat in a day, you can come up with a plan to start cutting back if needed. You can find a downloadable food diary in the "Balancing Calories" section of the CDC website.

  • Eat the right food. If you fill yourself up with healthy foods, you can eat more, feel full longer and keep calories under control. That means filling half your plate with fruits and vegetables, sticking to lean proteins like fish and lean cuts of meat, using low fat dairy products and getting plenty of fiber from beans and whole grains.

  • Get enough exercise. The amount of exercise you should do depends on your age and physical heath, but the average recommendation for maintaining a healthy weight is 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity every week. To get a chart of exercise activities and how many calories they burn, check out the "Physical Activity for a Healthy Weight" section of the CDC website.

If you need to lose weight or you are having trouble maintaining a healthy weight, talk with your health care provider. Some people do need help getting started, but you probably don't need a special diet plan or your own physical trainer. All you need is some knowledge and the willpower to create a healthy lifestyle. Now you have the knowledge. The willpower is up to you.