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Exercising when you're overweight

A woman doing a yoga pose.

Being active is one of the smartest steps you can take. Though there may be extra challenges if you're carrying excess pounds, you can get fit and gain all the benefits from regular exercise. Starting slowly is key.

If you want to lose extra weight, getting regular physical activity is essential. But if you're very overweight, you may face some challenges as you start becoming active.

For example, you might have trouble moving or bending. You might also worry about what you'll wear while exercising. Or you might simply feel uncomfortable working out around others.

Whatever your concerns, it's important to know that you can work around them and that the benefits of being active are worth the effort.

Here are some tips to help you begin.

Start slowly

One thing you should know is that you don't need to do strenuous workouts to get healthier.

Start out slowly and increase your exercise intensity over time. This gives your body time to adjust and helps reduce the risk of injury or discomfort, so you're more likely to want to continue.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), different people need different amounts of physical activity to lose and control weight. A minimum amount of activity to work up to is 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (such as brisk walking) each week, along with at least two days of muscle-strengthening exercise.

However, many adults need more exercise than this in order to control their weight. Some adults need five hours or more of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity, or 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, each week to control their weight. And it may be necessary to further increase exercise in order to keep weight off, the HHS notes.

But any amount of exercise is good for you and helps burn calories—even if it's only a few minutes a day at first.

Keep in mind that it's a good idea to check with a doctor before starting an exercise program.

Dress for comfort

While they're important, your workout clothes don't have to be fancy or fashionable. It is important that they're comfortable though.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) suggests:

  • Lightweight, loose-fitting tops that let you move easily.
  • Sweat-absorbent fabrics.
  • A good support bra for women.
  • Clothes that prevent inner-thigh chafing, such as spandex or tights. (You can wear shorts or sweats over them if you want.)

Exercise your options

There are many ways to start getting fit. And not all of them involve going to the gym. Here are some suggestions:

Start at home. One way to start is to simply fit more activity into everyday life. For example, household chores and yard work, done vigorously and in chunks of time at least 10 minutes long, can add movement to your day. It also helps to blend exercise with things you enjoy, so shoot some hoops, go bowling, play golf, or take your kids to the park and play.

Take regular walks. Walking is simple and, because it's low-impact, is also low-risk.

You can build walks into your day by parking farther from the store, walking during work breaks and taking the stairs.

Work out in water. Swimming or water workouts might be good choices, particularly if you have foot or joint pain when you stand, according to the NIH. Water makes us buoyant, so it's easy on weight-bearing joints, bones and muscles, notes the American Council on Exercise.

Pedal away. Like swimming, cycling may be easier on your body than weight-bearing exercises. If you're very large, a recumbent bike—on which you sit low to the ground with your legs reaching forward—may be more comfortable, notes the NIH.

Stay positive

Whatever activities you choose, set realistic goals, and don't get discouraged if you feel like you're not doing a lot at first. Instead, focus on positive changes.

Reviewed 9/28/2023

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