This is a sensitive issue but one that does need to be addressed. There are many people who start exercising because they are severely over-weight or obese, and they want to improve their health and quality of life. Exercise, healthy eating and achieving a healthy body-fat percentage all lower the risk of sedentary lifestyle diseases such as heart disease, stroke and type two diabetes, so if you’ve decided that it’s time to start a new healthy lifestyle you’ve made the right decision.
If you haven’t been very active recently though there are a few things you will need to take into consideration.
You should get a check-up done with your family doctor to make sure that there are no restrictions to the exercise you can do. For example, if your doctor finds that you have high blood pressure you will need to modify your exercise to minimise isometric poses, heavy weights lifted over the head, or positions where your head is lower than your heart, as these all increase blood pressure. Your doctor’s recommendations will be the best starting point for you to tailor an exercise program to meet your individual needs, but here are some general tips from me:
Are you shy about exercising with others? Hopefully you’re not. Anyone who is willing to forsake a relaxing night in front of the tv for some hard work should be proud of themselves. But, the reality is that many people who have been inactive for a while and who are very overweight lack a little confidence regarding exercising with others. If this is you, you can exercise in the privacy of your own home, for example with a work-out DVD, with cardio machines like spin bikes or cross-trainers, with a boxing bag etc.. Use your imagination. All you need to do is get your heart-rate up, work up a sweat and get out of breath. You can also do one-on-one sessions with a personal trainer, whether it be in your own home, in a private studio, or in a gym or park. You can also bite the bullet and take part in a class. Any trainer worth his or her salt will make you feel comfortable and welcome and create a positive environment for you, and there will probably be others in the class who are in the same situation as you and are feeling just as nervous.
Do you experience joint pain, or uncomfortable chafing and blisters, due to your size? These issues can limit your ability to do certain activities, like jogging or skipping. You will still be able to perform basic strength-training exercises such as chin-ups, crunches, squats and basic weight-lifting. However, you need to do cardiovascular exercise to build your aerobic fitness and burn calories. Look for activities which minimise impact and which you can do comfortably. Swimming or walking/jogging through the resistance of water are great options and will take pressure off your joints while your muscles work. If you prefer not to swim, a stationary bike, cross-trainer or rowing machine are great options. For those without access to such equipment, your can include jogging on the spot with hand-weights, shadow-boxing, boxing drills on a bag or with a partner, dancing, and low-impact aerobics. If chafing is a problem, try wearing compression-style clothing over the effected areas.
Do you get short of breath quickly due to lack of fitness? It’s normal to struggle at the beginning of a new fitness program, or when you increase the intensity of an existing one. Be patient with yourself and either break your cardio session up into intervals with short rest periods, or decrease the intensity so that you can perform your whole session continuously. Persist and your fitness will improve.
I want to stress the importance of being proud of yourself for making the decision to improve your health. Whether your goal is to manage diabetes, reduce your blood pressure or to create a new look, you’ve given yourself a challenge and have embarked upon a hard but rewarding journey. Congratulations!