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Making the Most of Exercise to Fight Obesity
When you're trying to overcome obesity, the first step toward weight loss can be the hardest. Get started with these expert exercise tips.
By Chris Iliades, MD
Medically Reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
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Bonnie Matthews weighed about 265 pounds at age 43. Her doctor told her that if she did not lose weight, she would be facing serious health risks. Today, at age 47, Matthews has lost 130 pounds and is a certified personal trainer and .
"I could not deal with the numbers,” recalls Matthews. “I could not think about the amount of weight I had to lose, but I could start walking and stop eating obviously unhealthy foods."
Obesity is dangerous for your health, and overcoming obesity is a long but important journey that involves a healthy combination of diet and exercise. Taking the first step is often the biggest challenge. Here are some exercise guidelines to get started.
Getting Started With Exercise for Weight Loss
If you are significantly overweight, the most important thing to remember is to start exercising safely. Obesity puts stress on your heart, bones, and joints, so starting to exercise too quickly could result in an injury or aggravate a medical condition that could stop you before you get started.
Talk to your doctor before exercising, especially if you are new to exercise, and make sure you start with a fitness routine that is safe and manageable. If you have knee problems, for example, you may need to cycle or swim until you have lost enough weight to walk or run. "Don't worry about losing pounds at first," says Matthews. "Just exercise because you want to be healthy."
If you are new to exercise, you may be able to start with only 10 to 15 minutes of exercise three times per week, but your goal should be to work up to 30 to 60 minutes on most days of the week. "Make exercise a priority,” says Matthews. “You deserve 45 minutes out of your day for health, even if you need to break it up into three 15-minute sessions."
Overcoming Challenges to Exercise
Plan ahead for bumps along the way and you’ll be better positioned to overcome them. "The first 40 pounds came off with walking and eliminating unhealthy foods, but after that I hit a plateau,” says Matthews. “I was looking better, but I needed to learn more about nutrition and I met a personal trainer who helped me start exercising more effectively."
Many people battling obesity may not want to rush to join a health club or gym — you may be too uncomfortable exercising in public until you have taken off some initial weight and start to feel better about the way you look. If that’s the case, simply grab a pair of sturdy sneakers and start walking.
Here are other tips for building your own fitness program:
- Educate yourself about nutrition.Exercise alone is not enough. You need to be burning more calories than you take in. "Exercise and nutrition go hand-in-hand," notes Matthews. Ask your doctor for help or consult with a nutritionist.
- Get help from an exercise pro.Once you have lost some initial weight and feel confident going to the gym, a certified personal trainer can help you safely target problem areas and maximize your exercise time.
- Add strength training and flexibility.In addition to a program of aerobic exercise, aim to perform strength training exercises two to three days per week (every other day to give your muscles rest and recovery time). Make sure to include stretching and flexibility exercises after each workout.
- Put away the scale."It's not about the numbers. As you start to lose weight, you will feel and look better. That success becomes the best motivation," says Matthews.
- Listen to your body.Always start exercise with a gentle warm-up and end with a cool- down period. If you have pain, dizziness, shortness of breath, or soreness and fatigue that lasts long after exercise, stop exercising and call your doctor.
Obesity needs to be taken seriously, and you need to make exercise part of your healthy lifestyle. You are the only one who can take the first important step, but you don't have to face the challenges alone. There is help available from doctors, exercise specialists, and nutritionists. "Going to exercise is as important as going to work. Find activities you can enjoy and look forward to. Having a healthy body, looking better, and feeling better about your self are the best rewards," says Matthews.
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