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How to Start Exercising When You’re Very Overweight

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Brunilda Nazario, MD - Blogs
By Brunilda Nazario, MDBoard-certified internist and endocrinologistApril 19, 2018

If you’ve got a lot of weight to lose, the thought of exercising can feel like a catch-22 – you know you have to exercise to lose the weight, but the weight makes it hard to exercise. This feeling of being stuck can actually hold you back even more than the weight itself – but it is possible to break free and get moving.

The first step is to make your thoughts work for you and not against you. After helping many of my patients lose weight (and dropping almost 100 pounds myself), I’m convinced that the secret to starting a routine exercise program is that it all begins in your head. The physical changes that come with exercise will take time, but the changes in your mood and mindset are immediate. Use those feelings to help motivate your behavior.

As you’re beginning, it’s very important to acknowledge and accept where you are today – without judgment. Don’t focus on what you can’t do, only on what you can. So, if you can only walk one block, then ROCK that one block like nobody’s business.

What activities should you do?

At first, the activity you choose doesn’t really matter that much. JUST MOVE.

In general, I recommend a weekly 10% increase in activity for people who are already active; but if you are starting out, you may need to go slower - remember that this is an ongoing effort.

  • Be kind to yourself. If you aren’t active, start with seated with exercises such as leg lifts, a seated squat, or glute squeezes. All of these help strengthen the muscles around your hip and will help you prepare to become more active.
  • Try adding some flexibility with stretching.
  • Try a little seated cardio. To help get the heart pumping and kick start your fitness routine, begin with a seated march, seated jacks, or a seated side skater.
  • You can do aerobic routines by chair-dancing or seated yoga poses.

How much should you exercise?

  • When you start, determine frequency and duration based on your ability level. Ignore the guidelines that say you should exercise 30 minutes most days of the week. Instead, focus on something enjoyable that you’ll stick to. Your focus should be to create a behavior that becomes a habit.
  • Create a simple contract for yourself, like “I will move/exercise/walk 2 times this week.” Remember that when you exercise at regular intervals, even if it’s in small amounts, you can get fitter and drop your weight.
  • Once you’ve found an activity and a schedule that works for you, work on gradually increasing your exercise /activity goal.

Keep in mind that if things don’t work out as planned, try not to get discouraged. Instead, change the dialogue in your head. Identify the goals you did accomplish, then go back and look at your contract to evaluate what/why things went awry and what solutions can curb those errors. Remember that achieving a healthy lifestyle isn’t easy – it’s a skill and few people are born natural athletes – so trial and error are a normal part of the process.

Ultimately, exercise is about transformation – and it begins when you decide to take the first step.

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About the Author
Brunilda Nazario, MD

Brunilda Nazario, MD, is the Lead Medical Director at WebMD and is responsible for reviewing WebMD content and ensuring its accuracy, timeliness, and credibility. She is a board certified Internist and Endocrinologist, she is also certified in Advanced Diabetes Management. Upon completion of a certification in bariatric medicine, Dr Nazario is now a Diplomate for the American Board of Obesity Medicine.

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