TIME Diet/Nutrition

Which Weight Loss Diet Works Best? A New Study Ranks the Evidence

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With so many ways to lose weight, you’d think it would be easy to tell which diet program works best — Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig, Nutri System or Slim Fast. But it might surprise you to learn that there isn’t a lot of good evidence on how effective various diets are, and here’s why

With the American Medical Association now urging doctors to treat obesity as a medical condition, physicians should be screening and treating overweight and obesity just as they would any other chronic disorder. But when it comes to figuring out which methods are proven to work best, physicians may find themselves at a loss. Some studies have found that commercial weight-loss programs work about the same when it comes to the amount of weight they can help consumers lose, while others found that low-carb diets beat out low-fat plans.

To make sense of the noise, Kimberly Gudzune, an assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University, and her colleagues searched the scientific literature for studies on 11 commercial weight-loss programs. In their results, published Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine, they assessed which ones have the best data to support them. But they also found there weren’t that many studies actually tracking how much weight people on the programs lose.

Gudzune decided to focus on commercial programs like Weight Watchers and NutriSystem, among others. And of 4,212 studies that involved these diets, only 45 were done under the gold scientific standard of randomly assigning people to a weight-loss program or not, and then tracking their weight changes over time. “The majority [of programs] still have no rigorous trials done,” says Gudzune.

According to her analysis, only two programs, Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig, helped dieters to lose weight and keep it off for at least a year. Those on Weight Watchers shed nearly 3% more of their starting weight after 12 months than those not dieting, and Jenny Craig users lost nearly 5%. Other programs, including Atkins, the Biggest Loser Club and eDiets, also helped people drop pounds, but since the studies only lasted three to six months, it’s impossible to know if that weight loss lasted.

The modest weight loss “may be disappointing to many consumers,” says Gudzune, but she notes that weight-management guidelines suggest that a 3% to 5% sustained weight loss is an important first step toward a healthy weight. “Even that small amount of weight loss can help to lower blood sugar, improve cholesterol profiles, help to lower blood pressure and ultimately prevent things like diabetes,” she says.

“Would 6% or 8% or 10% of body weight lost be better? Yes, but it’s not like the interaction is totally linear,” says Gary Foster, chief scientific officer of Weight Watchers International. Over time, weight-loss rates may change, and other studies show they typically slow after the initial blush of success.

MORE Calorie vs. Calorie: Study Evaluates Three Diets for Staying Slim

Modest weight loss can also seed good eating habits that can keep weight loss going, or maintain weight at a healthy level. “Modest weight loss on average can translate to a big public-health impact” on the obesity epidemic, says Dr. Christina Wee, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and director of the obesity-and-health-behaviors research program at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Fewer overweight and obese individuals mean fewer cases of diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, joint disorders and more. So for doctors faced with advising their patients on how to best manage their weight, these are the first bits of evidence that some commercial programs — Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig — might be better than others in helping patients to slim down and stay that way.

Still, a larger robust bank of evidence-based studies is needed. Typically, studies follow dieters for about three months, during which most people are likely to lose the most weight because they are more motivated and simply because they in a study and feel obligated to follow the diet. That’s another problem with the studies on diet programs, says Wee. “When trying to do a scientific study, researchers don’t want too many things going on at the same time, so they end up with a design for the study that doesn’t reflect the real world,” she says. “So the result is the result from an artificial setting.”

MORE: Diet Bake-Off: Jenny Craig Wins, Says Consumer Reports

Another factor that makes studying diets tricky is the fact that participants are assigned a diet. In real life, people tend to try a weight-loss program of their own choosing. When they find that it doesn’t fit with their lifestyle or personality, they try another. They may be more successful with their second or third choice, but in a study, they would fall into the failure category if they didn’t lose the target amount of weight on the first program.

“Now that obesity is coming under the medical umbrella, it’s really going to put more pressure on whether commercial programs or medical clinics have really good evidence to show their programs are effective,” says Gudzune. “For so long obesity was just in a no-man’s land, which I think did it a disservice because it didn’t push the industry to have better scientific evidence on what works and what doesn’t work.”

And it’s not just physicians seeking this proof. With the Affordable Care Act now covering obesity screening and counseling, and providing incentives to states to reimburse for comprehensive obesity treatments, it’s critical for insurers and policymakers who decide which weight-loss programs are worth paying for and which ones to deny.

Read next: Popular Diets Are Pretty Much the Same for Weight Loss, Study Finds

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TIME faith

Pope Francis Told to ‘Eat Less Pasta’ by Doctors

Pope Francis leads a Chrism mass for Holy Thursday on April 2, 2015 at St. Peter's basilica in Vatican.
Andreas Solaro—AFP/Getty Images Pope Francis leads a Chrism mass for Holy Thursday on April 2, 2015 at St. Peter's basilica in Vatican.

He's gained some weight in recent years

Infallibility, it appears, does not extend to the papal waistline.

Pope Francis is being warned by Italian doctors to “eat less pasta, walk more often, and lose a little weight to take some strain off his aching back,” according to the ANSA news agency.

Doctors told ANSA “that changing his eating habits, including fewer carbs and pasta only a few times per week, is needed to counter a weight gain noticed in recent years.”

The workaholic 78-year-old Francis, who’s not been shy about his love of pizza and who typically rises at 4:30 a.m. to start his busy days, also admitted in his Holy Thursday homily that he’s just exhausted.

“The tiredness of priests. Do you know how often I think about this weariness which all of you experience?” Francis said at St. Peter’s Basilica, according to another ANSA report. “I think about it and I pray about it, often, especially when I am tired myself.”

Francis was elected in March 2013, after his predecessor, Benedict, took the unprecedented step of retiring from the papacy. And last month, Francis suggested he, too, had retirement on his mind when he told the Mexican broadcast outlet Televisa that he felt his papacy would last only “four or five years … I do not know, even two or three. Two have already passed. It is a somewhat vague sensation.”

This article originally appeared on People.com.

 

TIME Exercise/Fitness

10 Reasons Your Belly Fat Isn’t Going Away

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The choices you make every day can supercharge your ability to burn belly fat

A little bit of belly fat is actually good for you: it protects your stomach, intestines, and other delicate organs. But too much fat is anything but healthy. Extra fat cells deep in your abdomen (aka visceral fat) generate adipose hormones and adipokines—chemical troublemakers that travel to your blood vessels and organs, where they cause inflammation that can contribute to problems like heart disease and diabetes. The good news? Every pound you shed can help reduce your girth. “Once women start losing weight, they typically lose 30% more abdominal fat compared with total fat,” says Rasa Kazlauskaite, MD, an endocrinologist at the Rush University Prevention Center in Chicago. Even better, the choices you make every day can supercharge your ability to burn belly fat. Here are 10 common pitfalls—and ways to undo each one.

Read more: 20 Best Superfoods for Weight Loss

You’re on a low-fat diet

To shed belly fat, it’s good to eat fat—specifically monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs). When researchers in one study asked women to switch to a 1,600-calorie, high-MUFA diet, they lost a third of their belly fat in a month. “MUFAs are satiating, so they help you eat fewer poor-quality foods,” says David Katz, MD, director of the Yale Prevention Research Center.

Belly blaster: Have a serving of MUFAs—like a handful of nuts, a tablespoon of olive oil, or a quarter of an avocado—with every meal and snack.

Read more: 9 Low-Fat foods You Should Never Eat

You’ve been feeling blue for a while

Women with depressive symptoms were far more likely to have extra belly fat, found a recent Rush University Medical Center study. That may be because depression is linked to reduced physical activity and poor eating habits.

Belly blaster: Exercise! “It improves levels of brain chemicals that regulate metabolism of fat, as well as your mood,” Dr. Kazlauskaite says. This enhances your motivation to do other things that help ward off depression, like seeing friends. But if you’re so bummed out that you don’t want to do things you used to enjoy, it’s time to seek the help of a therapist.

Your food comes from a box

Simple carbs (like chips) and added sugar (in items like sweetened drinks) cause your blood sugar to spike, which triggers a flood of insulin—a hormone that encourages your liver to store fat in your middle.

Belly blaster: Instead of focusing on cutting out junk, center your efforts on adding in healthy fare (think extra servings of vegetables at each meal). As Dr. Katz says, “Filling your tank with high-quality fuel thwarts hunger.”

You’re skimping on the miracle mineral

Magnesium regulates more than 300 functions in the body. No surprise, then, that a 2013 study found that people who consumed more of it had lower blood sugar and insulin levels.

Belly blaster: At least twice a day, reach for magnesium-rich foods such as dark leafy greens, bananas, and soybeans.

You’re hooked on diet soda

A study in Obesity found that diet soda drinkers were more likely to have a high percentage of fat in their bellies. The researchers think that diet drinkers may overestimate the calories they’re “saving,” and then overeat.

Belly blaster: If you’re not ready to kick your habit, the researchers suggest reducing the number of food calories in your diet.

Read more: 10 Reasons to Give Up Diet Soda

You love burgers

When Swedish researchers gave one group of adults 750 extra daily calories, mainly from saturated fat, and another group the same amount of calories but mostly from polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) for seven weeks, the saturated fat group accumulated two times as much visceral fat.

Belly blaster: Dine on fatty fish like salmon or trout once a week to get a good dose of PUFAs. The rest of the time, reduce your intake of red meat and opt instead for protein low in saturated fat, such as legumes and chicken.

You think girls don’t get beer guts

According to a 2013 Danish study, beer may indeed be linked with abdominal obesity. And though beer appears to have the greatest impact, wine won’t save you from a spare tire: One study found that the amount of alcohol of any type that women drank contributed to weight gain.

Belly blaster: Stick with seven or fewer alcoholic beverages a week. Light to moderate drinkers are the least likely to carry excess weight anywhere, shows a recent Archives of Internal Medicine study.

You can’t recall when you last said “om”

Menopause-related hormonal changes (which typically begin in your 40s) make it harder to shed stomach pudge—but vigorous yoga can help offset the effects. A 2012 study found that postmenopausal women who did an hour-long yoga session three times a week for 16 weeks lost more than 1/2 inch around their waists.

Belly blaster: Not a fan of Sun Salutations? “Take an hour to do something nice for yourself,” which could help control your stress hormones, advises Sheila Dugan, MD, a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist in Chicago.

Read more: Try This Flat-Belly Yoga Pose

Your meals are beige

Brightly colored fruits and veggies are loaded with vitamin C, which reduces cortisol. What’s more, a recent study in The Journal of Nutrition showed that people who ate more of the nutrients in red, orange, and yellow produce had smaller waists as a result.

Belly blaster: Add color to your plate by topping fish with a mango salsa, or throw diced red pepper into your turkey meatballs.

Your sweat sessions don’t involve sweat

Research has shown that high-intensity interval training, or HIIT—bursts of vigorous activity followed by short periods of gentle activity or rest—boasts belly-shrinking benefits. “High-intensity exercise seems to be more effective at reducing insulin, triglycerides, and cortisol, and it burns more calories in less time, too,” notes Shawn Talbot, PhD, a fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine.

Belly blaster: If you enjoy biking or running, for example, accelerate to a pace that makes it hard to talk for two minutes; then slow down for a minute, and repeat until you’re done. Like resistance training? Try a series of moves like squats or push-ups for two minutes each with a 60-second break between them.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

Read next: What Diet Soda Does to Belly Fat

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TIME Diet/Nutrition

Can Watching Cooking Shows Lead to Weight Gain?

Whole Foods Market Grand Tasting Village Featuring MasterCard Grand Tasting Tents & KitchenAid® Culinary Demonstrations - 2015 Food Network & Cooking Channel South Beach Wine & Food Festival
Larry Marano—2015 Larry Marano Paula Deen attends the Whole Foods Market Grand Tasting Village during the 2015 Food Network and Cooking Channel South Beach Wine and Food Festival on February 22, 2015 in Miami Beach, Florida.

Cooking is always healthier than not cooking—right? Not according to a new study published in the journal Appetite, which found that the more a woman prepared food she saw on a cooking show, the higher her BMI.

The researchers surveyed about 500 women, with an average age of 27, about their weight, height and cooking habits. Getting information from cooking shows and social media were both associated with a higher BMI.

MORE: The Truth About Home Cooking

Other studies have shown that merely watching someone else eat influences the way you eat—which is “the exact situation that may occur when people watch cooking shows on television,” the authors write. The study didn’t look at what foods the women actually consumed, mind you.

Other research suggests that the foods featured on TV aren’t always healthier than eating out. One study found that recipes by TV chefs in the U.K. had worse nutritional stats—more calories, more saturated fat and less fiber—than prepared food from supermarkets, which in and of itself is a pretty low bar for nutrition.

MORE: The Case Against Cooking

Scroll through your feed of Instagram dinner pics, and you’ll realize your friends aren’t helping, either. The authors speculate that social media was linked to BMI “because people may post their most indulgent “picture-perfect” recipes,” they write.

Need help deciding what to make for dinner? Check out the 50 healthiest foods of all time—nothing bacon-wrapped here, promise. Your BMI will thank you.

TIME Addiction

This Is Not a Good Reason to Smoke Cigarettes

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But smoking causes weight loss, a new study says

Anyone who’s considered lighting up knows smoking’s skinny-making reputation, and a new study of 80,000 people shows there’s truth to the claim. Researchers found that smokers weighed about 5 pounds less than people who had never smoked, according to new research in the International Journal of Epidemiology. The cause of that lighter weight, the researchers say, is tobacco.

Those findings are a direct contradiction to several observational studies that have linked smoking to just the opposite: higher body weight and BMI. But researchers at Copenhagen University Hospital wanted to look at the link genetically, in a way that wouldn’t be plagued by confounding lifestyle factors that often go along with smoking. They took weight and BMI measurements of 80,342 people, along with blood samples that they analyzed for DNA.

They looked at a genetic variant associated with higher tobacco consumption, close to a gene called CHRNA3—”the smoking craving gene,” says study author Børge G. Nordestgaard, MD, professor at the University of Copenhagen in the department of clinical biochemistry. Smokers with this genotype weighed almost three pounds less than smokers who didn’t inherit this genetic variant. But in people who had never smoked or formerly smoked, there was no link between CHRNA3 and a lower body weight.

“That’s really the proof that smoking causes it,” Nordestgaard says.

That doesn’t mean that smoking will give you a better figure. In the study, smoking only affected total body weight, not body shape or fat distribution.

The weight loss effect may be due to a laundry list of chemicals in cigarettes, the authors say—some studies have found nicotine to suppress appetite and increase resting metabolic rate. “There’s a possibility that many of these chemicals may influence weight in some pathway we don’t know about yet,” Nordestgaard says.

That’s obviously no reason to start—or continue—smoking, the researchers caution. “From what we know so far, the hazards of smoking much overweigh the slight benefit of having a lower body weight,” Nordestgaard says. “But when smokers tell you they won’t stop smoking because they’re afraid of gaining weight, I think it’s important to know that this is real—so we can try at the same time to help them quit smoking and keep a lower body weight.”

Read next: What Diet Soda Does to Belly Fat

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TIME Research

This New Drug Turns ‘Bad’ White Fat Into ‘Good’ Brown Fat

GC-1 could have the potential to treat obesity and metabolic disease

Scientists claim they have found an experimental drug that turns “bad” white fat cells into “good” brown ones.

Known as GC-1, the drug speeds up metabolism, or the burning off of fat cells, reports Science Daily. Researchers found it caused weight loss in fat mice.

“GC-1 dramatically increases the metabolic rate, essentially converting white fat, which stores excess calories and is associated with obesity and metabolic disease, into a fat like calorie-burning brown fat,” said study author Kevin Phillips of the Houston Methodist Research Institute.

Until recently, scientists thought only animals and human infants had these energy-burning “good” brown-fat cells.

“It is now clear that human adults do have brown fat, but appear to lose its calorie-burning activity over time,” Phillips added.

He calls white fat a “metabolic villain” when you have too much of it, whereas people with more brown fat have a reduced risk of obesity and diabetes.

GC-1 works by activating receptors for the thyroid hormone, which help regulate how your body turns food into energy.

Phillips’ team tested the drug on hundreds of mice who were genetically obese or who had diet-induced obesity. They found genetically obese mice lost weight and nearly 50% of their fat mass in two weeks. Diet-induced obese mice also showed improvements.

The drug was also tested on white fat cells grown in a lab, and researchers say they found evidence that the drug turned white fat into the brown variety.

Phillips hopes the drug, which has not yet been tested on humans, has the potential to treat obesity and metabolic disease.

The results of the study will be presented at the Endocrine Society’s 97th annual meeting in San Diego on Friday.

[Science Daily]

TIME Diet/Nutrition

5 Non-Diet Factors That Can Affect Your Weight

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Weight control is influenced by more than your daily calorie intake

For years I’ve heard experts say, “Weight loss simply comes down to calories in versus calories out.” But throughout my years as a practitioner, that simple philosophy hasn’t rung true. I’ve seen clients break a weight loss plateau after increasing their calorie intake—swapping processed “diet” food for whole, nutrient-rich clean foods and changing up their meal balance and timing.

I’ve also found that stressed-out, sleep-deprived clients have a more difficult time losing weight, which has been backed by numerous studies. And now, research shows that a number of other lifestyle and environmental factors also play roles in influencing metabolism and weight control.

Here are five on my radar, and tips for combating them.

Artificial additives

Just-released animal research from Georgia State University found evidence that artificial preservatives used in many processed foods may be associated with metabolic problems, such as glucose intolerance and obesity. In rodents genetically prone to inflammatory gut diseases, the chemicals led to an increase in the severity and frequency of metabolic problems. Scientists believe the effects are due to changes in gut bacteria. When chemicals break down the mucus that lines and protects the gut, unhealthy bacteria come into contact with gut cells, which triggers inflammation, and as a result, changes in metabolism.

Combat it: This is preliminary research, but even more of a reason to read food labels and eat clean. When buying anything that comes in a box, bag, or jar, read the ingredient list first. My philosophy is that it should read like a recipe you could whip up in your own kitchen. For more info check out my previous post What Is Clean Eating?

Read more: 16 Ways to Lose Weight Fast

Shift work

Researchers from the University of Colorado at Boulder found that people who work the night shift burn fewer calories during a 24-hour period than those who work a normal schedule. The difference can lead to weight gain, even without an increase in calories. In other words, when you throw off your body’s circadian rhythm, your normal diet can suddenly become excessive due to a metabolic slowdown. This parallels research which found a relationship between body clock regulation, gut bacteria, and metabolism. When mice received gut bacteria from jet-lagged humans, they gained significant amounts of weight and had abnormally high blood sugar levels.

Combat it: If you work when most people are sleeping, or you travel through different time zones, seek out nutrient-rich foods that help boost satiety, increase metabolic rate, and regulate hunger, including fresh veggies and fruit, beans and lentils, nuts, ginger, hot peppers, and good old H2O. For more tips check out my previous post 9 Natural Appetite Suppressants That Actually Work.

Read more: Best Superfoods for Weight Loss

Weight criticism

University College London researchers found that over a four-year period, people who experienced weight discrimination or “fat shaming” gained weight, while those who did not shed pounds. Another study from Renison University College at the University of Waterloo found that over five months, women with loved ones who were critical of their weight put on even more pounds.

Combat it: You may not be able to control the type or amount of support you receive from others, but there are effective techniques for improving your personal mindset. For example, practicing mindfulness meditation has been shown to help reduce stress, lower hunger hormones, and prevent weight gain. In a study published in the Journal of Obesity, this practice led to a greater loss of belly fat, without following a calorie-counting diet. I teach it in my private practice and I devoted an entire chapter to meditation in my upcoming book, Slim Down Now($20, amazon.com). If you’re a newbie, check out UCLA’s online classes.

Read more: 11 Reasons Why You’re Not Losing Belly Fat

Environmental chemicals

It may seem odd for a nutrition professor to study flame retardants. But one such professional at the University of New Hampshire found that these substances—which are found in everything from furniture to carpet padding and electronics—trigger metabolic and liver problems that can lead to insulin resistance, a major cause of obesity. Compared to a control group, rats exposed to these chemicals experienced dramatic physiological changes. In just one month, levels of a key enzyme responsible for sugar and fat metabolism dropped by nearly 50% in the livers of rats exposed to flame retardants. According to the researcher, the average person has about 300 chemicals in his or her body that are man made, and we’re only beginning to understand the possible effects.

Combat it: You can’t eliminate your exposure to synthetic substances, but you can limit it. You can now find natural products in nearly every shopping category, including cosmetics, cleaning supplies, toys, and household goods. For help, check out resources and guides from organizations like the Environmental Working Group.

Read more: Get a Flat Belly in 4 Weeks

Genetics

It’s no surprise that we take after our parents when it comes to body type, but new research shows that the type of bacteria that live in our digestive systems are also influenced by genetics. That’s an important finding, because more and more research indicates that gut bacteria are strongly connected to weight control. Scientists at King’s College London found that identical twins had a similar abundance of specific types of gut bacteria, compared to non-identical twins. This indicates that genes strongly influence bacteria, since identical twins share 100% of their genes, while non-identical twins share about 50% of their genes. They also found that the presence of a specific type of bacteria was most influenced by genetics, and that type strongly correlated with leanness. In fact, transplanting this bacteria to the digestive systems of mice caused the animals to gain less weight than those that did not receive the bacteria.

Combat it: You can’t change your genetics, but there’s a great deal of research now about how you can transform your good gut bacteria. The top strategy: avoid artificial and processed foods, and load up on a variety of whole, plant-based foods, including vegetables and fruits, whole grains, beans and lentils, and fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut. For more about how to eat more plant-based foods, check out my previous post 5 Delicious Pasta Alternatives.

Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health’s contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers NHL team and the Tampa Bay Rays MLB team, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

Read next: 7 Reasons Why You’re Working Out and Still Not Losing Weight

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TIME Exercise/Fitness

The Best Workout for Weight Loss

Why intensity matters in exercise

Everyone knows that cardio exercise—by way of a bike ride or a sprint—is key to weight loss. But a high-intensity cardio workout may do a better job of decreasing blood sugar levels than lower intensity exercise, according to a new study in Annals of Internal Medicine.

The study assigned 300 obese people to a group: one that exercised with low intensity for long periods of time or another that engaged in high-intensity workouts for short durations. By the end of six months, people in both groups experienced similar levels of weight loss. But those who had exercised with higher intensities saw reduced two-hour glucose levels, a key measure for predicting conditions like heart disease and stroke. People in the high-intensity group saw a 9% improvement in glucose tolerance, compared to a negligible change in people who took part in low-intensity exercise.

Increasing the intensity of a workout isn’t beyond the reach of most exercisers, according to lead study author Robert Ross, a researcher at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. “Higher intensity can be achieved simply by increasing the incline while walking on a treadmill or walking at a brisker pace,” Ross says.

Read more: This Is How Much Exercise Experts Think You Really Need

Still, while high-intensity exercise may have some unique health benefits, the study showed that any exercise is better than none. People who exercised lost 5-6% of their body weight, a 4- to 5-centimeter reduction in waist size.

The study challenges the way public health officials tend to think about the health benefits of exercise. Health organizations often issue guidelines based on time spent exercising. Instead, the study suggests, health officials should consider intensity as well.

Read more: The 50 Healthiest Foods of All Time

Read next: The Best Workout Move You’re Not Doing

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MONEY Health Care

4 Health Moves That Can Make You Richer

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Jesse Strigler Photography—Getty Images

Better physical health can be a boon to your finances. Follow these steps to stay in shape.

Welcome to Day 9 of MONEY’s 10-day Financial Fitness program. By now you’ve learned how to bulk up your savings, cut the fat from your budget, and boost your earnings. Today, taking care of your health.

Your physical health and your financial health go hand in hand, especially as rising deductibles and increased cost sharing leave you on the hook for more expenses when you get sick.

Plus, your pocketbook takes a hit when you’re overweight: The annual cost of carrying extra pounds—including medical expenses, sick leave, and even gas for the car—is $524 for women and $432 for men, according to a 2010 study by the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services. And Fidelity estimates that a couple who retire in good health will spend 20% less on medical care than a couple in poor health will.

You know what helps: exercise, sleep, a healthy weight, and regular checkups. Here’s how to make it easier to do the right thing.

1. Don’t Pass Up Freebies

Under Obamacare, annual physicals and a long list of valuable preventive care, from cholesterol tests to colonoscopies, are fully covered by insurance, with no out-of-pocket costs.

2. Be Your Own Doctor

Not quite, but tech has made staying on top of your health easier—especially important with a chronic condition such as high blood pressure. The Health app that’s part of the new Apple operating system unveiled last fall and the Health Tracker app for Android devices allow you to upload, input, and share health and fitness data.

3. Let Your Scale Motivate You

University of Minnesota researchers found that dieters who weighed themselves daily lost an average of 12 pounds in two years; weekly scale watchers lost only six. The once-a-day group was also less likely to regain the weight. Need help? Our sister publication, CookingLightDiet.com, offers healthy eating customized meal plans.

4. Make Tracking a No-Brainer

People who count their steps are more motivated to work out. But the novelty of fitness trackers like the Fitbit can quickly wear off. More than half of owners stop using them, a recent University of Pennsylvania survey found; a third bail within a month.

If that’s you, add a tracking app such as RunKeeper or Moves to your phone instead. “Many people carry smart-phones everywhere,” says Mitesh S. Patel, an internist and researcher at the Wharton School. “If we really wanted to improve the health of the population, smartphone trackers are an easier place to start.”

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