Why is a healthy weight important?
Reviewed by our clinical team
We all know that eating healthily and exercising is important for our physical and mental health. And maintaining a healthy weight is another important part of this. In the UK it’s thought that as many as 25% of adults are overweight and around 2% of people are underweight, both of which carry their own complications.
What a healthy weight is for you can depend on a lot of different things, from your build to upbringing, the amount of exercise you do and your age. In this article we’re going to look at how you work out what’s a healthy weight for you and how you can reach that goal weight.
Why is a healthy weight important?
Maintaining a healthy weight is one of the best ways you can look after your health. Being overweight or underweight can put you at greater risk of certain conditions.
Being overweight can put you at risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke and certain types of cancer.
Being underweight can make your immune system weak and damage your bones, making them more fragile. You also might find that you’re not getting all the nutrients you need, and some women experience fertility problems.
What is a healthy weight?
In the UK we generally use the Body Mass Index (BMI) to work out what a healthy weight is for someone of your age and height. People with BMIs between 18.5 and 24.9 would be classed as a ‘healthy weight’.
How is my BMI calculated?
BMIs are worked out by dividing your weight in kilograms by your height in metres squared. This means if you weigh 60kg and you’re 1.65m, your BMI is 22. For example:
60 / (1.65 x 1.65) = 22
What does my BMI mean?
BMIs are organised into five bands, to help you work if your weight is too low, normal or potentially too high.
- BMI under 18.5: Underweight
- BMI between 18.5 and 24.9: ‘Healthy range’
- BMI between 25 and 29.9: Overweight
- BMI between 30 and 39.9: Obese
- BMI of 40 or over: Severely obese
What is a healthy weight for me?
Generally speaking, your BMI needs to be in the 18.5 to 24.9 BMI range for you to be classed as a ‘healthy weight’. But there are some limitations of the BMI measurements, for example some people who are very muscular (e.g., sports people like rugby players) might be classed as ‘obese’. This is because muscle weighs more than fat.
It’s also important to be aware of other factors that might mean that the ‘healthy weight’ range is slightly different for you. For example, people from black, Asian and other minority ethnic groups are at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes and a BMI of 23 or over increases that risk.
Trying to reach a healthy weight
Reaching a healthy weight isn’t always easy, but here are some tips for losing and gaining weight.
For most people weight loss is all about reducing the food you’re eating, making sure you’re eating a healthy, balanced diet and increasing the amount of exercise you get.
To lose weight at the right pace (around 0.5-1kg a week), you should be thinking about reducing your calorie intake by around 500-600 calories a day. To do this you could:
- Aim for at least 30 min of physical activity everyday - this will help you burn more calories
- Set realistic goals and make healthier choices
- Follow a diet plan (the NHS has lots of helpful resources)
- Or trying something like intermittent fasting
Like with losing weight, if you need to gain weight, it’s best to do it slowly. Gradually increase your calorie intake with healthy foods – such as fruit and vegetables, starchy carbohydrates (like potatoes, wholegrain bread, pasta and rice) and some healthier sources of protein (like eggs, lean meat, fish, plant-based proteins).
What you want to avoid is eating lots of high-calorie foods full of saturated fat and sugar. While these will help you up your calorie intake, they will also increase your body fat rather than help you build lean body mass. A diet high in sugar and saturated fats can also put you at risk of high cholesterol.
To help you up your calorie intake healthily, we recommend things like:
- Having porridge made with full-fat yoghurt with lots of fruit
- Have peanut butter or other nut spreads on toast, or add them to porridge or smoothies
- Thinking about having protein and starchy carbs for lunch, for example a jacket potato with tuna or baked beans on top
- Have a yoghurt after a meal as dessert
- Eat a handful of unsalted nuts each day
Maintaining a healthy weight
Once you’ve reached a healthy weight, it’s important to maintain it. You can do this by making changes to your lifestyle and behaviours which you can stick to long-term.
Eating-wise, to keep a healthy weight, for men the recommended daily calorie intake is 2500 calories and for women it’s 2000.
Keeping weight off
If you were trying to lose weight, you should try and stick to a lower-calorie diet where possible and keep up your exercise.
To avoid getting bored and falling back into old habits, try and mix up your meals or exercise where you can. You could think about trying new classes or a series of recipes from a different cookbook.
Getting support from weight loss groups, classes or programmes is also a great way to keep you motivated to keep your weight off.
It’s a good idea to keep an eye on your weight, perhaps weighing yourself once a week or checking your waist, hip, or thigh measurements.
Keeping weight on
Being underweight as you get older is fairly common, as you might have periods of illness or lose your appetite. Things like eating smaller meals and having high-energy regular snacks (like peanut butter on toast or milky drinks), can help you keep your calories up.
If you’ve been trying to put weight on for other reasons, once you reach your target weight, it’s all about continuing to eat a healthy balanced diet and trying to stay active.
Your GP will be able to help you with recommendations and support for keeping weight on.
‘Healthy weight’ and eating disorders
It’s important to bear in mind that BMI ranges don’t apply if you have an eating disorder. If you think you, or someone you know, might have an eating disorder, you should try and see a GP as soon as you can. You can also contact the charity Beat which specialises in eating disorders, and has a phone or chatline you can call for advice confidentially.