How to work out when you're overweight

Getting into a regular exercise routine can be intimidating at the best of times, but when you're overweight or obese, it may seem especially challenging. Here are five tips to help you get started

By Amanda Vogel

How to work out when you

Getting on track with regular exercise can seem challenging and intimidating for anyone, but when you’re overweight or obese, it might feel even harder to get started. Read on for expert guidance on breaking down the intimidation barrier and making exercise part of your lifestyle once and for all—safely and effectively.

If gyms intimidate you, don’t start there

Have you ever worried that you must get fit first before joining a gym? You’re not alone. Fear and intimidation are common barriers to exercise for overweight women, says Louise Green, a North Vancouver, B.C.-based fitness instructor and owner of The Body Exchange, a company that provides boot camps and classes exclusive to plus-size clients.

While the atmosphere at most gyms is causal and accepting of all body types, if feelings of intimidation are holding you back from exercising at all, try an alternative to the gym when getting started. For example, you could opt for in-home sessions with a personal trainer, working out to fitness DVDs, or an outdoor boot camp for beginners. Bonus: when you exercise outside, there are no mirrors or complicated fitness contraptions to figure out.

Take the first step—to your doctor’s office

If you’re overweight or obese and not used to working out, make sure, for safety’s sake, that you have the proper medical clearance to begin an exercise program. This is especially important if you have one or more existing health conditions—such as diabetes and/or high-blood pressure—related to extra weight and sedentary living.

“It’s always good practice to visit your physician prior to joining an exercise program,” says Green. “This allows you to find out ahead of time if there are any health risks or concerns. Starting a program with confidence that you’re ready and able to exercise lends to the best results.”

Rethink your definition of "exercise"

For many new exercisers, the idea of working out might conjure up images of hours logged on the treadmill. But there’s far more to a well-rounded exercise plan than cardio—even if your ultimate goal is to lose weight by burning calories.
While cardio exercise helps you lose weight, avoid doing just that type of exercise at the expense of other important fitness components, such as flexibility, muscle strength and endurance.

“Conditioned muscles have a wonderful effect on your body’s efficiency to burn calories and, as a result, can assist in weight loss,” says Green. “And stretching, usually a forgotten movement, plays an important role in your body’s mechanics, and your overall physical fitness.”

Be the boss of your exercise program

Some overweight or obese individuals might worry that they’ll be unable to comfortably fit on exercise equipment and/or get into certain exercise positions. The best way to bust through these roadblocks so you get the most out of exercise and avoid frustration or embarrassment is to expect that exercise be geared toward your personal capabilities and body type. You shouldn’t have to fit an exercise mold that’s not suited to you.

“I always tell my clients that there are many different ways of working individual muscle groups,” says Green. “If you’re worried you won’t fit in the leg curl machine, it’s ok, you don’t have to!”

When in doubt, experiment with various fitness DVDs (you can preview lots of titles on sites such as YouTube and Collage Video to get an immediate sense of how a certain DVD might work for you), or enlist the help of a trainer who has the experience and expertise to customize unique programs specifically for you.

Walk off the weight

Some fitness trainers suggest swimming as a starting point for exercise because it’s non-impact and therefore easy on joints that are already stressed from carrying around excess weight. But Green says you should only head to the pool if wearing a bathing suit in public isn’t going to become a barrier to exercise in itself.

As an alternative for individuals who are overweight or obese, experts typically recommend an activity that’s simple, enjoyable and practical: walking. “I always recommend walking because it’s accessible to anyone and can be done at any time,” says Green.

Get ready to change your life

Once you’ve decided to either join a gym, dust off the treadmill in your basement, walk outdoors or exercise in your living room, head to your doctor for medical clearance. Then purchase a sturdy pair of fitness shoes and you’re ready start your journey toward weight loss, confidence, energy and good health.

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Web exclusive, January 2011

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