03/24/2011 10:59 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Managing Your Weight Is Worth 10 More Years

How do you feel about staying alive for longer? And how does not dying of a heart attack sound? Ask anyone who's had one and if they are still alive, they will tell you most assuredly that you're better off avoiding one. Also, how do you feel about staying younger for longer and remaining out of the nursing home? You are the only one who knows exactly why you might decide to lose weight, but without considering vanity and other more minor motivators, these reasons might be bigger than just fitting into your jeans.

Look around and you will see lots of obesity -- younger is the new fatter -- but what you will not see is lots of obese septuagenarians (70 years old) or octuagenarians. Less than 20 percent of people 70 years and older are obese.

People who remain obese into their second half of life cut the length of that second half by more than half that of a normal weight person. The 70, 80 and 90 year old people you see living an active life are the lean ones. And it's not because the heavier old folks stayed home, or that they decided to lose weight in their fifth or sixth decade. It's because, as Hippocrates, The Dr. Oz of 460 BC said a few thousand years ago, "Fat men are more likely to die suddenly than the slender." If you are obese, you are going to live a shorter life. Raise your hand if you're ready to go even one day sooner than you have to.

I often try to motivate with more immediate benefits of weight loss and exercise. How we look in the mirror is highly valued in the world today. And watching the number on the scale go down and the wiggle room in your waistband is reinforcing because it is measurable. But the most fundamental reason to lose weight is to live younger for longer. Whatever you treasure in life, good luck enjoying it if you're dead.

There's a huge trade-off that we can't quite comprehend because it comes after the fact -- at the end of our lifespan. Is living five or 10 more years worth the inconvenience of establishing new eating habits; or even the slight irritation level of a stricter diet; or committing to 30 minutes of walking every day?

Think of someone you've lost and tell me that even one or two more days would not be an immeasurable gain and worth much more discomfort than not having ice cream every night before bed. Look at your children and imagine not being around to see their children. Death at any time is too soon and early death due to a deconditioned lifestyle immediately disqualifies you from any benefits you look forward to at the end of it all, whether it's finally getting your IRA benefits, retiring to the Bahamas or seeing peace in the Middle East (although we may have to live a few lifetime lengths to get to see that one).

Changing your diet is not fun and days struggling to stick with an exercise are wretched, but keeling over dead is worse. Tomorrow will be better. And each day you stick with it the less it will impinge on your mood.

Even if obesity doesn't shorten your lifespan, you're opted to suffer from a slew of medical complaints and issues that will make the years you live less pleasant and more limited. By medical complaints I refer to the really big irritations like heart attacks, diabetes and high blood pressure as well as to more vague style-crampers such as shortness of breath -- as in "Hey! Wait for me!" -- muscle aches and joint pains.

Pick up a 10 pound bag of potatoes and see how much effort it takes to lug that thing everywhere you go all day long. Yet many people walk around with many times that weight strapped around their middle. No wonder they have no energy or feel awful. This proves the point that you can get accustomed to almost anything.

If you've struggled with obesity for a long time, it's difficult to pinpoint what it's costing you in how you feel every day, it's even more difficult to see it in terms of future health problems at the opposite end of your lifespan. The only answer is to do it and find out how great you'll feel without the extra weight. Stick with the 30 minutes a day. See the diet through and experience its happy conclusion for yourself.

The first month or so is not easy. Focus instead beyond the hunger to how you feel physically and energetically and pat yourself on the back for what you've accomplished so far. And remember that it will be worth a few hunger pangs.