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Safe Ways to Work Out When You’re Overweight

These fitness options will help you set things in motion and begin making positive changes
Written by 
Holly Corbett Bristol
Canyon Ranch Reviewer: 

If you’re overweight, you may have already thought about all the ways exercising more can benefit you. You may have even committed to becoming more active. Still, we know that taking those first (or second, or third) steps can sometimes be difficult, both physically and mentally. Maybe joint pain or lack of energy get in your way, or perhaps a lack of confidence in your abilities or potential prevents you from trying. Despite past experiences with exercise, or lack thereof, you can move more. The truth is, you use energy—and calories—to perform even the smallest amount of movement, otherwise known as non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). Being active doesn’t mean running five miles a day; it includes many options—adjusting your approach to and outlook on movement is a good place to start.

Of course, joining a gym or signing up for a fitness class are options you can consider. But if those seem intimidating or a mismatch for you at this stage, there are other choices that you may prefer and that may help you move more easily as you begin your active journey. Having support—a coach, friend or family member—around you is a big part of staying motivated and accountable.

The following workouts are safe and effective ways to ease into exercising when you’re overweight. Start at a comfortable pace for you and celebrate small achievements. Even just 10 minutes of exercise a day can raise your metabolism four to five times from its resting rate, boost your mood and contribute to a healthy lifestyle. It won’t be long before you begin to see and feel a change in yourself—one that you can build on in the days, months and years ahead.

Walking

You don’t have to go very far or very fast—a 15-minute walk every day is one of the simplest ways to get moving. A brisk walk burns about 100 to 150 calories and helps strengthen your leg and gluteal muscles. But if you’re having a hard time getting out there, adopting some stick-with-it solutions, like walking with friends, can help get (and keep) you motivated. Soon, a quarter of a mile will become a mile, and so on, and you’ll begin to notice physical changes. If you’re experiencing joint pain or limitations in your feet or knees—most commonly challenged by walking greater distances—consider doing another activity on opposite days. Or try walking on a softer surface, like a rubber track or grass.

Be careful not to…ignore your form. You may need to tweak your walking technique to protect yourself from injury and increase your pace. Being aware of your body and your stride will help you get the most out of your walk.


Strength Training

Lifting weights helps increase lean muscle mass while burning fat and boosting your metabolism. Strength training doesn’t have to be intimidating—in fact, you can even do it using just your body weight. Incorporate it into your routine slowly by trying some simple dumbbell  or body bar exercises two to three days a week in the comfort of your own home. Resistance bands can also be great beginner strength tools. When you’re comfortable, consider meeting with a trainer for more guidance or taking a class that includes strength moves.

Be careful not to… start with weights that are too heavy. Use dumbbells that are five to 10 percent of your body weight. If that feels like too much, drop down to a lighter weight.


Water Movement

While getting in the pool may not be your first choice, trying options like water walking—taking big strides across the shallow end of the pool, swinging your arms at your sides—or an aqua class can be great joint-friendly ways to move your entire body and engage different muscle groups. If you do feel comfortable in the pool, or have had some past experience, try a short lap swimming workout and increase your yardage over time. Choose whatever stroke feels easiest for you—side stroke is a good one to start with. Or, use props, like a kickboard or noodle, if you’d rather kick through your laps—an effective workout on its own. Whatever you choose to do, being prepared for common mishaps, like foggy goggles or leg cramps, will help you have your best swim.

Be careful not to…do more than you can. Though moving in the water may feel easier than other types of exercise, it’s still a total-body workout.


Yoga

Starting a yoga practice can be a great way to start moving—and listening to—your body. There are many different types of yoga, some more strenuous than others, but each will help you burn calories, raise your metabolism two to five times from its resting rate and strengthen your muscles. Consider starting with yin yoga, which involves holding poses for several minutes while you’re seated or lying down, challenging your muscles and allowing you to use your breath effectively. Hatha (a slow-paced practice), restorative (which uses supports and props) and chair yoga are also good beginner options. Talk to the instructor before the class starts about modifications you can perform when having trouble with a pose and to get a good understanding of how to use certain supports, like bolsters.

Be careful not to…push yourself too far. It may be months before you can touch the floor with your palms or balance in Tree Pose. That’s perfectly OK. Yoga isn’t a competition but rather a way to focus on your breath, release tension, improve flexibility and burn calories at your own pace.

Reference(s) 
American Council on Exercise
Journal of the American Physical Therapy Association
National Institutes of Health
About the author 
Holly Corbett Bristol writes for USA Today, MensFitness.com, Shape, and more. She is also the co-author of The Lost Girls: Three friends. Four continents. One unconventional detour around the world. (HarperCollins).