Healthy Ways to Lose Weight

Whether it’s for a new year’s resolution, impending bathing suit season, or on the advice of their doctor, many people set goals of reaching a healthy weight or improving physical fitness. Here are some tips to help you achieve your goal, while taking care of your PH at the same time.

Know where you are going

The first step in planning any goal is to know where you want to go. Begin by calculating your BMI (Body Mass Index). Use the calculation:

Weight (lbs) / (Height (in) x Height (in)) x 703

Or use this calculator online.

A BMI less than 18.5 is underweight, a BMI of 18.5- 24.9 is healthy, 25-29.9 is overweight, and greater than 30 is obese.

While the BMI is not perfect, aiming for a number in the healthy range is generally considered a sensible target. The good news is, even modest weight loss (around 5-10 percent) can have significant health benefits. Work with your PAH provider to develop appropriate and realistic weight loss goals for you.

So how do I get there?

It is important to learn how many calories per day you usually consume. Try keeping a daily food diary for a week to give you an idea of your average daily calorie intake. There are several online calorie counters or you can purchase a calorie counting book at your local bookstore.

You need to be in a deficit of 3,500 calories to lose one pound. You can do this by either eating 3,500 fewer calories or burning 3,500 calories more than usual. Try eating 500-1000 fewer calories each day. By the week’s end, you will have cut 3,500-7,000 from your diet, giving you a weight loss of approximately 1-2 lbs.!

Sorry, but there are no shortcuts

Losing weight can be tough, and it is natural to want instant results. However, generally people who lose weight gradually (1-2 lbs. per week) are more successful at keeping the weight off than those who lose it quickly. Try to focus on lifestyle changes rather than going on a diet.

There are many advertisements promising fast or effortless weight loss. These claims are generally false, exaggerated or even dangerous, especially for PAH patients. For example, some diet products contain stimulants, which can worsen PAH.

Diets that eliminate certain types of foods (carbs, fats, etc.) are not generally sustainable and have not been shown to have long-term weight loss results. PAH patients need to be especially mindful of their nutritional, electrolyte and fluid intake, particularly if they are on coumadin, diuretics or potassium supplements.

Currently popular are diets promising fast weight loss by using hormones combined with an extremely low-calorie diet. These have not been studied sufficiently, and we do not know their long-term effects, particularly in people with PAH. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

What about activity?

For PAH patients, physical fitness can be challenging. Patients often worry about the safety of exercise or feel too fatigued or short of breath to be active. Your body was designed to move. However, you will need to exercise within the recommendations of your PAH provider. A great place to start is by participating in a cardiopulmonary rehabilitation program at your PAH center or local hospital. This is a monitored exercise program designed for people with activity limitations from heart and/or lung disease. Physical therapists who are knowledgeable about PAH will teach you about safe exercise and better breathing.

Walking is generally safe, but you will need to walk at your own pace. Increased shortness of breath, chest pain, heart palpitations or dizziness are signs that you may need to slow down and rest.

Patients with less severe PAH may be capable of more intense exercise, but it is important to get clearance from your PAH provider.

What now?

Keep in mind that your needs are unique, even from other PAH patients. It is extremely important before deciding to embark on a diet/exercise program or before considering starting additional supplements/medications that you discuss your plan with your PAH provider. He or she can help you decide on a healthy plan to meet your goals. Remember, they are there to help!


1. Healthy Weight-it’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle. [Accessed 11/14/11].
2. Calculate Your BMI-Standard BMI Calculator. [Accessed 11/14/11].
3. Pregnyl (chorionic gonadotropin for injection). [Accessed 11/14/11].
4. BMI Calculator. [Accessed 11/14/11].
5. Coumadin diet [Accessed 11/14/11].
6. Diet and Nutrition. [Accessed 11/14/11].
7. Exercise and PH. [Accessed 11/14/11].

By Lisa L. Roessel, FNP-BC, Pulmonary Hypertension Program Coordinator, Division of Pulmonary & Critical Care Medicine, Legacy Clinic Northwest, Portland, Ore.

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2012 issue of Pathlight.